billy budd

Title: billy budd
More Cliffsnotes

HERMAN MELVILLE: THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES When Herman Melville sat down at the age of 25 to write Typee, his first book, he had no college education or even a high school diploma; he had no money and no intention of becoming a professional writer. What he did have was experience: four years of exciting adventures on whaling ships, in the navy, on exotic South Sea islands, and a short but unforgettable time as the only white man among a tribe of cannibals. If you've ever had the urge to set down on paper some amazing experience of your own, you have a sense of how Melville must have felt when he dashed off Typee--the story of his stay with cannibals in a tropical paradise. Imagine his surprise when the book became an instant bestseller! What a stupendous beginning to a writer's career. More than 40 years later--in 1888--the 69-year-old Herman Melville began work on his last book, the masterpiece Billy Budd. Between the publication of Typee and the writing of Billy Budd, Melville had experiences of an entirely different sort than those of his youth. He had married and fathered a family. He had seen his early fame and success evaporate when his novels became more serious and difficult. He had come close to suffering a nervous breakdown and finally decided to give up writing fiction. He had been forced, for financial reasons, to take a boring job in the New York Customs House and stayed with it for some 20 years. These experiences deepened Melville and in some ways embittered him. But they also gave him insight about himself and the nature of man. He learned the truths of the heart. From the varied events of his life, he discovered how people hate and forgive, how they act under pressure, how evil can destroy them and good can save them. At the end of his life, he wanted to write fiction again so he could impart his wisdom. The result is Billy Budd, the capstone of Melville's life and career, and one of the gems of American literature. Billy Budd tells the tale of the tragic demise of the Handsome Sailor brought down by the forces of evil and inhuman law. Typee describes a tribe of Polynesians--cannibals, yes, but "noble savages" just the same--whom Melville came to admire for their beauty, happiness, and utter freedom from the corruptions of Western civilization. Your first reaction might be that these are totally different books demonstrating how much Melville had changed over the course of his lifetime. Right? Right. But that's not all. Even though four decades had separated the writing of Melville's first and last books, they do have certain themes in common. Under the sunny, tropical surface of Typee valley, don't you see the evil lurking, the fear, the violence, and the cannibalism? Both Billy and the Typee inhabitants are good-looking, good-natured, kind, and happy; yet, without warning, brutality can flash out of these innocents with terrifying speed. Good and evil, innocence and violence are the basic traits of human nature that Melville explored from his first book to his last. What in Melville's life brought him to these enduring themes and turned them into a kind of obsession? They were partly a result of the unhappy circumstances of his early years. Melville was born in New York City in 1819 into a well-to-do, aristocratic family: his father's family were prosperous Boston merchants and his mother was a Gansevoort, one of the first patrician Dutch families to settle in New York State. Both his grandfathers fought as distinguished officers in the American Revolution. With this background, Melville seemed destined for a life of fashionable ease until his father went bankrupt in 1830, and the family was forced to move to Albany. Two years later, Melville's father was dead, and the large family was on the brink of poverty. Can you imagine how such a drastic change and personal tragedy would have affected you at the age of 12? Melville had to leave school and take on a variety of jobs he found dull and degrading. The older he got, the more miserable he became. He had an adventuresome spirit and a lively mind, but he was being cramped and suffocated. So in 1839, at the age of 20, he signed on board the merchant ship St. Lawrence and set sail for Liverpool. You can already see how the theme of the fall from innocence comes out in Melville's childhood. The big houses and easy lifestyle he was used to as a child must have seemed like Eden compared to the misery of being poor. But then think about the shock he must have received when he first went to sea. Even though his family had become impoverished, he was used to the company of well-mannered, polite, and civilized people. Suddenly he was thrust among a bunch of tough and dangerous sailors and was being bossed around by a tyrannical captain and his officers, who had little patience and much contempt for the "young gentleman." If you put on airs, you'd be a laughing-stock. If you didn't do your job right, you'd be severely punished. If you didn't learn the ropes--and fast--you'd be picked on, beaten up, humiliated, maybe even killed. The 20-year-old Melville did learn the ropes and he did survive his first shipboard experience, but you can understand how his views on human nature must have changed after getting to know the sailors (many of whom were little better than criminals), the brutal officers, and the terrible conditions of life on a ship in the mid- 19th century. This startling contrast between the innocence he had known as a child and the violence he came into contact with during his shipboard coming-of-age went into the vision of good and evil that he expressed so many years later in Billy Budd. And yet despite some of the horrors of being a sailor, Melville could not resist the lure of the sea and shipped out again in 1841, this time on the whaling ship Acushnet bound for the South Pacific. Though Melville distorts and changes many facts in order to make it an exciting book, Typee does give you a pretty good idea of what happened to Melville after he decided to leave the hardships of whaling behind by escaping to the island of Nukahiva. He actually did live for a month as the sole white man in the valley of Taipi- Vai (his Typee) with a group of people who actually did practice cannibalism (though not on him!). But despite his deep appreciation for many aspects of indigenous life and a new awareness of the corrupting influence of Western civilization, he was not the type to follow the practices of the indigenous people. When you read Typee, you feel all the forces that must have been pulling Melville in different directions: his sensuous delight in the carefree island life, his urge to return home, his hatred for what the missionaries were doing to the islanders, and yet his deep commitment to his own culture. Typee satisfied the publics interest in exotic places and in the lives of primitive peoples. The book's success catapulted Melville into a literary career, and he quickly produced four more novels, most of which sold well and gave him enough money to support his wife and growing family. The year 1850 was a watershed in his life: he moved to a big country house in the Berkshires, befriended the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived nearby, and, greatly influenced by Hawthorne's writing and conversation, forged ahead on Moby-Dick, his masterpiece. Have you read this epic drama of Captain Ahab's relentless pursuit of the great white whale, Moby-Dick? It brings together everything Melville had learned at sea with his most profound thoughts on human nature and the eternal conflict of good and evil. You can see in its symbolism, its shipboard setting and its brooding on man's darker side that Moby-Dick is clearly a forerunner of Billy Budd. Yet Billy Budd has a clarity and pure beauty that go beyond the raging passions of Moby-Dick. It's a short book, and yet it seems to hold a world of meaning. Melville's last book reflects the wisdom, and some would say the peace, that the writer attained at the end of his life. It was his last word and he knew it. He spent three years, from 1888 to 1891, writing and rewriting Billy Budd so that his message would achieve its maximum power and simplicity. At Melville's death, Billy Budd was still in manuscript form. Some scholars feel that Melville had not completed his work and would have gone on making changes had he lived. Others believe that Billy Budd was finished to the author's satisfaction. It was not published until 1924. Don't you find something fitting about Melville's return to a shipboard setting in his final work? His greatest coming-of-age adventures occurred at sea. He used the sea and ships as setting for two early novels, Redburn (1849) and White-Jacket (1850), as well as for his masterpiece, Moby-Dick. It is not surprising, then, that the old Melville decided to reexamine the scene of his daring youth in the light of all the wisdom he had gained since he first shipped out. For the past three decades he had devoted himself exclusively to writing poetry, which was mostly unread and unappreciated; but he wanted his final work to be prose. He felt he had something more to say about the drama of good and evil. And he felt he could say it best in a novel about a ship, its officers, and its sailors. When you read Billy Budd, you see how resoundingly Melville makes his final statement. The story itself is so simple you can sum it up in a sentence: A handsome innocent sailor, who is framed for a mutiny he knew nothing about, impulsively kills the man who framed him because a speech impediment keeps him from defending himself, and the ship's captain decides the sailor must hang. Melville's triumph is that he distills the passion and knowledge of a lifetime into this simple tale. Melville, perhaps more than any other writer, brought the conflicts of our American way of thinking and feeling to the level of heroic myth. When you look at his own career--the early burst of adventure, fame, and success followed by the bitterness of failure and, ultimately, the artistic triumph of Billy Budd--don't you think he too has the quality of myth about him? BILLY BUDD: THE PLOT The year is 1797, a time of war between Britain and France, and also a time when British sailors rose up in mutinies against the naval authorities. Billy Budd, a handsome, naive, and good-natured young sailor, is forced to join the British Navy aboard the man-of-war Bellipotent (called the Indomitable in some editions of the book). Billy was happy and liked by everyone on The Rights of Man, but he doesn't protest the change; he's not a complainer, and he does what he's told. Billy is assigned to the foretop (a platform up on the foremost mast of the ship), and he soon makes friends with the other foretopmen and becomes a popular member of the crew. Billy is so virtuous that he seems almost too good to be true, but he does have one defect: he stutters, especially when he becomes emotional. Both Captain Vere, the commander of the Bellipotent, and John Claggart, the ship's master-at-arms (which is really a police spy job), notice Billy, but they each have different reactions to him. Because of his good looks and innocent temperament, Billy reminds the captain of Adam, the father of mankind, in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. But Claggart, a sneaky, evil, and deceitful fellow, singles Billy out because he's jealous and resentful of his popularity. Billy, unaware of the attention he's attracted, applies himself to his job. One day he sees a fellow sailor being flogged as punishment for some petty crime, and Billy vows never to do anything that will bring this dreadful punishment upon himself. But try as he might, he keeps getting into trouble over minor details having to do with his bags and bedding. He just can't figure it out, so he asks the Dansker, a wise old friend, for advice. When the Dansker tells him that Claggart is down on him, Billy can't believe it. Claggart's always been so kind! There has to be some other explanation. A few days later, when Billy is having lunch, he accidentally spills his soup across Claggart's path. Oddly enough, Claggart's only response is to tap Billy on the back and tell him jokingly that it was "handsomely done." Billy takes this as proof that Claggart really likes him. But how wrong he is! Claggart is so depraved and paranoid that he trumps up this soup-spilling into a major offense and starts plotting Billy's demise. Claggart gets one of his henchmen to approach Billy at night and offer him money to join in a mutiny. Billy is so shocked that he starts to stutter. Though he furiously rebuffs the man, he fails to report him to the authorities because he doesn't want to be an informer. Meanwhile, the Bellipotent is sent out on a scouting mission and sails miles away from the British fleet. Claggart chooses this moment to spring his trap. He goes to Captain Vere and tells him that Billy Budd is causing trouble on board and hints that he might be leading a mutiny. Vere has trouble believing this story, so he decides to bring Claggart and Billy together in secret and force the truth to come out. The meeting takes place in his cabin. Claggart delivers his accusation, and Billy is so surprised and upset at the lie that his stutter gets the better of him. In an agony of frustration, he punches Claggart in the forehead, and the blow kills him instantly. Though Vere sympathizes with Billy and believes him to be honest, he feels he must carry out his role as captain and follow the naval rules exactly. He calls in three officers for a hasty court martial and argues that, according to the regulations, Billy must be hanged. While acknowledging that Billy is innocent in the eyes of God, Vere insists on an immediate execution. One of the officers suggests that they convict Billy, but pardon him, which Vere rejects. He convinces them that to do so would encourage the crew to mutiny because it would seem as if the officers were scared of them. Vere breaks the news to Billy himself: He's been found guilty and must hang in the morning. Billy takes it calmly, and, in fact, the two men embrace like father and son. The entire ship's crew gathers to watch the dawn hanging. At the moment before death, Billy calls out, "God bless Captain Vere!" and the crew echoes his blessing. As he ascends on the yardarm, the sun streaks through a cloud and shines gloriously on his face. His body does not twitch in muscle spasms, as is usual with hanged men, and the crew takes this for a miracle. Captain Vere watches without expression and then disperses the crew before they can protest. Soon after Billy's death, the Bellipotent enters into a fight with a French ship called the Atheist. Captain Vere is shot in battle and dies some days later on land. His last words are: "Billy Budd." Long after Billy's death, the sailors still remember him and even keep the yardarm he was hanged from as a relic, as if Billy were Christ and the yardarm, the Cross. One of his fellow foretopmen commemorates Billy in a gentle ballad, and his story ends with this simple poem. BILLY BUDD: A NOTE ON THE TEXT OF BILLY BUDD When Melville died in 1891, he left Billy Budd in the form of a working manuscript, full of cross-outs and alternate word choices and phrases. Since the book was first published in 1924, several scholars have gone back to the original manuscript and tried to come up with a text that is closest to what Melville intended. This is why there are different versions of the text of Billy Budd, with different titles, different chapter breaks, and many other minor variations. One very noticeable difference is the name of the ship on which the story takes place. In the earlier editions it is called the Indomitable, while in the most recent edition it is called the Bellipotent. This guide is based on the most recent edition, which is considered definitive. Edited by Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr. and first published in 1962 by the University of Chicago Press, its full title is Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative.) BILLY BUDD: BILLY BUDD Is Billy Budd for real--or is he meant to have only symbolic significance? Your interpretation of the book will depend in part on how you answer the question. One thing is clear: Billy Budd moves in a different realm than either of the other two major figures in the book, Captain Vere and John Claggart. There seems to be something larger than life that sets Billy apart. It's possible that you know someone who reminds you of him; but if you do, you probably keep asking yourself if this friend is believable. People like Billy are just not like the rest of us. The first thing you notice about Billy is how handsome he is--a blond, blue-eyed, 21-year-old with a perfect build, smooth rose-and- tan complexion, and noble yet relaxed way of carrying himself. He's more boyishly charming than sexy, but there's even more to his looks than this. His appearance has a classical perfection that brings to mind the gods and heroes of Greek mythology--Hercules, Apollo, Agamemnon. Billy does, however, have one flaw, though it's not a physical blemish: He stutters when he's upset, and the more upset he is the worse his stutter becomes. If you want to view Billy as a real person, you can point to his stutter as a trait that takes him off his pedestal and makes him humanly believable. On the other hand, some readers interpret the stutter symbolically, and say it represents original sin, the inborn tendency to evil in our nature. Billy is as good-natured as he is good-looking. When he worked on the merchant ship The Rights of Man, he was the most popular man on board, the ship peacemaker whom all the sailors loved and looked out for. When he's forced to sign on the man-of-war Bellipotent as a foretopman, he doesn't complain, and he soon wins the friendship of the sailors on that ship as well. Billy's way of joking around with his shipmates and worrying about getting flogged make him seem like one of the guys. He sings songs, goes out of his way to be respectful to his friend, the old Dansker, occasionally does clumsy things like spilling his soup, and becomes violent when provoked. All of these details help us to see him as a real person. The fact that Billy hides the truth about a possible mutiny on board adds another shade of complexity to his nature. Is he being honorable because he won't squeal, or is he being stupid for endangering the welfare of the ship? Billy's most basic characteristic trait is his innocence, again, it's up to you to decide whether to interpret it symbolically, and if so, how far to take the symbolism. What exactly does innocence mean in Billy's case? Partly, it means simplicity, honesty, purity, and straightforwardness. Billy lives and acts from his heart; he's not the least bit intellectual or self-conscious. He's incapable of sarcasm or deceit. His innocence partly reflects a lack of experience: Billy can't read or write; he knows little of the world except what he's seen at sea. He's so trusting that he can't imagine the presence of evil in anyone. His gullibility makes him an easy mark for someone like Claggart, who sets traps for Billy in secret but pretends to like him. Is innocence of this magnitude possible in a real person? Readers who see Billy as a symbol say no, and point to the many comparisons of his character with Adam in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. The symbolic view is also brought out by the vagueness surrounding Billy's background and parentage. The guess is that he's the illegitimate child of an English lord, and some readers even speculate that Captain Vere (a bachelor) is Billy's actual father. We're never told anything about his childhood, his relatives, or really anything at all about his life prior to the events narrated in the novel. Like Adam, he seems to have sprung full-grown out of God. There are readers who feel this lack of information turns Billy into an Everyman figure and makes him more universal. Others say that it isolates him and emphasizes his uniqueness. There is still another aspect to Billy's innocence that we haven't discussed. Again and again, Billy is called a "barbarian." What Melville had in mind here was a natural, precivilized man--the "noble savage"--similar to the islanders we meet in Typee. Like the islanders, Billy lacks an understanding of the tricks of sophisticated life. He's easygoing, lives in the present, and expresses himself through his body and emotions--not his intellect. Billy is often seen as a symbol for Christ. Like Christ, he is an innocent man who is unjustly accused and put to death. The Christ symbolism comes out strongest in the scenes where Claggart accuses Billy of plotting a mutiny and Billy's hanging. Comparisons with Christ add to the symbolic significance of Billy's story and elevate Billy even further above the sphere of the common sailor. But these comparisons also draw your attention to the many ways he is not like Christ: his violence, his lack of worldly knowledge and understanding, his stutter, and his gullibility. Can someone like Billy survive long in a world that is not nearly as good as he is? On a symbolic level, his downfall through the traps laid by Claggart reenacts the fall of Adam from a state of innocence and follows the oldest theme of all: good versus evil. But on a more realistic level, if you've ever known someone like Billy, you know how vulnerable he is to attack by a clever, deceptive enemy. Billy as a symbol is the innocent whom the devil will always seek to destroy. Billy as a man is the eternal good guy who gets trapped in a world more complicated and more treacherous than he is. BILLY BUDD: JOHN CLAGGART What is John Claggart's problem? This is a question you can think about endlessly and still not answer to your satisfaction. Claggart is the force of evil in Billy Budd. He is Billy's opposite in just about every way. This will give you a good handle on how to talk about Claggart, but it doesn't get to the bottom of him. As Melville makes so clear in the novel, evil is a mystery that can never be adequately explained. And John Claggart, the embodiment of evil, contains this mystery at the very center of his character. To look at him, you might not think he's so bad. Thirty-five years old, tall, dark-haired, and fairly handsome, there are only two really unusual things about his appearance--a dead-white complexion and an overly large chin. Claggart's job is master-at-arms aboard the Bellipotent, but in fact what he does is spy on the crew of the lower gun decks. He's supposed to report any infringement of the rules no matter how small, and his job seems to fit his secretive, spider-like personality perfectly. The odd thing about Claggart is that he seems to be quite intelligent, and no one can quite figure out how he got to be in the navy. Rumor has it that Claggart was a small-time criminal in England, and that he was drafted into the navy directly from prison. But no one seems to know anything about him for sure, and he doesn't give away anything. Even his citizenship is in doubt, because Claggart's accent has a hint of something foreign. This vagueness about his background is the one thing he has in common with Billy. His intelligence links him, as we'll see, with Captain Vere. But Claggart's depraved nature is totally unique. Where Billy has the innocence of Adam and becomes a victim like Christ, Claggart has the deceitfulness and envy of Satan, and he doesn't hesitate to use these personality traits to bring about Billy's downfall. In a symbolic reading of the book, there's no question that he represents evil. But it's also worthwhile to take a closer look at the man behind the symbol and try to fathom the "mystery of iniquity" that he embodies. Claggart is depraved by nature--he didn't learn to be evil by associating with evil people or picking up bad habits. His evil is inborn. In fact, he doesn't even have bad habits. On the outside, he's straight, clean-living, calm, and rational. He applies all the powers of his intelligent mind to bringing about his hateful purposes, but he does so in secret. If you were to meet him, you'd think there was something slimy about him, but you'd never have any idea just how sick he was inside. Because of his secrecy and surface tranquility, Claggart is the most dangerous kind of madman there is. Yes, madman: You finally have to conclude that Claggart is insane. Why does he pick on Billy? There are several possible reasons. One is envy: Claggart sees how popular Billy is. He's smart enough to understand that Billy's good looks go with a good heart; he half wishes he could be like Billy, but since he knows this is impossible, he moves in for the kill. Why must men like Claggart be around to mess things up for the rest of us? Does every Eden have to have its snake? The presence of John Claggart in Billy Budd suggests that evil is part of our world, and it will always attach itself to innocence and try to corrupt or destroy it. The judges and leaders are not the only ones who must deal with this problem--it is everyone's concern. BILLY BUDD: CAPTAIN VERE In Billy Budd, the role of judge and leader is played by the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere, the commander of the Bellipotent. Vere is a member of the English aristocracy; in fact, Vere is the name of a noble family that was especially prominent in the seventeenth-century. A bachelor about 40 years old, Vere is a brave but not imprudent captain, who has distinguished himself in several battles and risen to his rank through dedicated service and because he treats his crew well. He is an intellectual, which is something of a rarity in the armed forces. He loves to read, especially history and philosophy books that reinforce his strong and conservative opinions of the world. Though he is a decisive leader, he also has a touch of dreaminess in his character and can be seen, on occasion, staring out to sea, thinking his own private thoughts. This trait is the real reason the nickname "Starry" Vere stuck with him, even though his cousin originally gave him the name as a mark of honor after Vere returned triumphantly from a naval victory. Some of his fellow officers find him a bit pompous, because he's always sprinkling his conversation with learned quotations. But they all agree that even though he can be odd and aloof, he's a good, solid captain, who does his duty and serves his King well. As a leader, Vere exercises caution and doesn't take unnecessary risks. He thinks before he acts and he can make a fast and firm decision when he has to. This is the fundamental nature of Vere's character, and everyone agrees on these basic facts. But when Vere has to deal with the extremely difficult situation on board his ship caused by Claggart's accusation, and Billy's striking out at him, his character is thrown into a whole new light. The way he handles himself in this situation has provoked endless debate and heated disagreement among critics, readers, and students. The central dilemma of Billy Budd puts Vere to the test and forces him to make an excruciating decision. The way you feel about this decision, and the man who makes it, will form the backbone of your interpretation of the book. Let's look at some of the different points of view on Captain Vere. 1. VERE AS STERN BUT JUST JUDGE No one likes the fact that Billy hangs for killing Claggart, but many feel that Vere made the only decision possible. As the captain of the Bellipotent he must look out for the welfare of the whole ship, not just the fate of one man, and his decision to execute Billy takes this priority into account. You know how much Vere suffers because the more he sees of Billy, the more he loves him. By the end, he feels almost like Billy's father. He knows Billy is innocent in the ultimate sense, but his duty concerns the here and now. The law demands that Billy must hang, and Vere knows he must uphold the law. 2. VERE AS COLD-BLOODED COWARD Vere argued himself into the death penalty for Billy out of cowardice and naked fear. He might easily have pardoned Billy, but he convinces himself that to do so would cause the crew to mutiny, and he uses this lame argument to convince the other judges to go along with him. It's the typical second-guessing of a nervous coward. Vere might read a lot of books, but all they do is fossilize his already settled opinions. Like so many intellectuals, he totally separates his feelings from his thoughts, and assumes that his gut reaction is wrong, because it comes from his gut. Would you want a man like this to be your judge? Vere's total lack of imagination wouldn't be so bad if he were only a private gentleman, reading and smoking his pipe in the seclusion of his own library. But since he's a captain in the navy, in a position of key responsibility, it's an unforgivable flaw with fatal consequences for Billy. 3. VERE AS A WELL-ROUNDED MAN IN A TOUGH SPOT If you've ever had to make a really difficult decision, you know how tough things must have been for Captain Vere. What makes it even worse for Vere is that he's a highly intelligent, complex person who understands all the implications of Billy's case. He's a leader and a thinker, a man of deep feeling but also a stickler for detail, a man with strong personal opinions but with an even stronger sense of duty. There's no simple right or wrong in this case; Vere knows this and suffers for it. Don't you find making some decisions to be torturous? Vere has to weigh human nature, the mood of his crew, the political situation, the law, and the ultimate right and wrong of the case. Because of his training, education, and disposition, Vere is uniquely qualified to grapple with Billy's plight. He does the best that he can. You have to respect him for this and feel for him. BILLY BUDD: THE DANSKER Though Billy has many friends among the crew of the Bellipotent, the Dansker is the only one whose character Melville fills out completely. Wrinkled, cynical, tight-lipped, and wise in the crooked ways of the world, the Dansker offers quite a contrast to the handsome young sailor whom he dubs "Baby Budd." Melville compares the old Dansker to the oracle at Delphi, a kind of religious fortune- teller whom the ancient Greeks would consult for advice about the future. Like this oracle, the Dansker likes making short, cryptic pronouncements, and once he speaks, he refuses to explain what he's said. Billy, for one, can't understand half of his utterances, and what he understands he refuses to believe. You might get frustrated with the Dansker because, while he cares for Billy, he refuses to take a stand and speak up for him. BILLY BUDD: THE SHIP'S SURGEON The Bellipotent's surgeon is a man of science, a materialist who insists that everything that happens in the world has some rational explanation in physical fact. At first you might think the surgeon injects a note of sanity and reason into the overheated atmosphere of Billy Budd, but finish the book before you jump to any conclusions. Science only has a limited amount to say about a story as emotionally and spiritually complex as Billy Budd, and the surgeon's smug self-confidence may strike you as missing the point altogether. BILLY BUDD: THE SHIP'S CHAPLAIN The chaplain of the Bellipotent is a good and pious man who comes to talk with Billy about Christianity on the night before his hanging. But he comes away feeling that Billy's innocence will serve him better on Judgment Day than anything the gospels have to offer. Even though he sympathizes with Billy, he does nothing to help him. Melville gives us the chaplain to show how Christianity, the religion of peace, is forced to serve war in our society. In fact, Billy, the "barbarian," who is impervious to the teachings of Christ, is closer in spirit to Christ than the chaplain, kind and discreet as he is. BILLY BUDD: SETTING Billy Budd, an "inside narrative," focuses on the inner life of a single ship. Life aboard the Bellipotent is a scaled-down model (a microcosm) of life itself, yet you will feel how intense and almost claustrophobic this setting can become as the story proceeds and tension mounts. Though the wide open sea is all around, it only isolates the men from the rest of the world. If you've ever been on a long ocean voyage or cut off from the world in some small group (on a camping trip with other people, for example), you know how quickly people can get on each other's nerves, and how minor irritations can flare up into anger and sometimes violence. Melville captures this intensity on board the British man-of-war Bellipotent and heightens it into the symbolic story of Billy Budd. Throughout the book, this ship is cruising the Mediterranean, though we're never told precisely where. At the crucial moments of the plot, the ship is miles away from the rest of the British fleet. Billy Budd is set in a time of war and mutiny, and these factors have a major impact on the story and on Captain Vere's decision to condemn Billy to death. During the last quarter of the 18th century, the British saw revolution sweep first through their American colonies and then, several years later, through France. In both cases the revolutions succeeded: America gained her independence, and the French revolutionaries toppled the monarchy and plunged that country into a period of turmoil that ended only when Napoleon took over as emperor. Napoleon promptly engaged in a series of protracted wars with the major monarchies of Europe: Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. The Napoleonic Wars dragged on from 1796 to 1815 and changed the political map of Europe. The action of Billy Budd unfolds against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. And the war enters into the story in several ways. Britain was so desperate for sailors to man her large fleet at this time that it became legal for naval officers to board private ships and commandeer whatever men they wanted into the British Navy. This practice was known as impressment. Billy is impressed off the merchant ship The Rights of Man onto the man-of-war Bellipotent at the start of the book. It's also hinted that Claggart is impressed into naval service from a British prison. Even more important to the atmosphere and action of Billy Budd are the two mutinies that occurred in the British Navy just months prior to the story. Though the mutinies were suppressed, you can easily imagine the fear they caused throughout Britain. Many people were terrified that the mutinies would be the first sparks of a revolution. On board the Bellipotent, you can feel this fear vividly. The word mutiny alone is like a curse that no one--except Claggart-- dares to utter, though you know that everyone has it on his mind. New legislation was passed in Britain to allow naval officers to deal swiftly and brutally with any new mutinous outbreak. These laws and this atmosphere of tension work against Billy when Claggart decides to go after him. BILLY BUDD: THEMES Readers have interpreted the major themes of Billy Budd in a wide variety of ways, some of which seem contradictory. No one reading is, or ever can be, definitive; no one theme can sum up the book: Your analysis will be influenced by your personality, your feelings about the characters, and your own sense of justice. You may even want to focus on contradictory meanings as one of the book's themes. So long as you can find support for your ideas in the text, your interpretation is valid. Here are some of the major themes of Billy Budd: 1. A DRAMA OF INNOCENCE AND EVIL Billy is closely associated with Adam before the Fall and with Christ; Claggart is like the serpent Satan who wormed his way into Eden and tricked mankind out of a state of purity, innocence, and happiness. Billy Budd reenacts this age-old conflict between good and evil symbolically and in the workings of the plot. It's a parable (a symbolic story) about the Fall of Man. 2. RECONCILIATION, ACCEPTANCE, AND FORGIVENESS Yes, Billy Budd reenacts the Fall of Man, but it goes a step further to show the forgiveness and acceptance that follow. The crucial scene in this book is the meeting between Captain Vere and Billy after the trial (the scene from which we're significantly excluded), when the judge embraces the condemned killer like a father embracing his son. The father-son motif is a sub-theme within this general interpretation. The key line in the book is Billy's resounding blessing: "God bless Captain Vere!" Melville, who struggled with the mystery of evil all his life, ends his career on a note of peace and forgiveness. 3. IRONIC TRAGEDY Billy Budd is neither a morality play about good and evil nor a story of reconciliation, but an ironic tragedy with no neat and tidy resolution. Vere's decision to execute Billy is totally legal and yet totally unnatural. Billy accepts his fate, but does he understand the forces that brought about his doom? The narrator hints at many possibilities of meaning and many possible responses to underscore the ambiguity of the case. Far from accepting evil at the end of his career, Melville draws a chilling portrait of it and asks the question: Why must we have this force in our world? 4. LAW AND HUMAN NATURE The focus of Billy Budd is on the drama of how law deals with the complexities of man's nature. While Billy is fundamentally innocent and Claggart is guilty of evil, the law demands that Billy be hanged for murder. Is the law, therefore, an instrument of Claggart's evil? Or is Billy's sacrifice necessary to sustain justice overall? The central character of this theme is Captain Vere and the central scene is Billy's trial, when Vere argues the importance of upholding the law, even at the expense of human feelings. Though law is never perfect, imperfect human nature makes it necessary. 5. SOCIETY IN TRANSITION The story of Billy Budd plays out the transition from a bucolic world of simple values and innocent men to a cold, inhuman world dominated by harsh laws, violent wars, and industrial mechanization. Billy is the natural man destroyed by the rigidities of a civilized society that cannot accommodate his goodness and trust. What do you think of a world that believes it is necessary to condemn Billy to death? Do we, in fact, live in a world that has become progressively more brutal and inhumane? Billy Budd signals the transition of society from a state of simplicity to the nightmare of the modern world. 6. A STUDY IN CONTRASTING VALUES Throughout Billy Budd, different values are compared and contrasted. Billy not only represents innocence, but emotional truth, spontaneous action, physical beauty and health, and a natural goodness untainted by the deceit of civilization. His opposite is Claggart, who is associated with the depravity of the intellect, the corruption that hides behind a civilized exterior, secrecy, and a tricky genius at manipulating appearances. In the middle is Captain Vere, who shares some of the characteristics of each. Does he resolve them? Is it possible to resolve them? The resolution or lack of resolution may be deeply embedded in human nature itself. 7. THE DIFFICULTY OF MAKING A DECISION All the events in Billy's story emphasize the impossibility of making a fair decision about his fate. Melville gives you many ways of looking at it--from the point of view of what is essentially right and wrong, from a legal standpoint, from an historical perspective, in terms of the total good of the ship, from the perspective of basic human compassion--and forces you to undergo the difficulty of making a choice. There is no easy answer, and really no right answer. So you must settle it as best you can with your own conscience, just as Vere must settle it with his. BILLY BUDD: STYLE AND POINT OF VIEW The style and point of view of Billy Budd can be treated together because the strong narrative voice determines both. The narrator of the story is clearly a highly educated person with a great knowledge of mythology and the Bible, and with strong opinions that he occasionally steps forward and asserts (for instance, when he holds up Lord Nelson as an example of glorious heroism). Though the narrative voice is consistent throughout the novel, the point of view continually shifts. Sometimes the narrator puts you inside the heads of the characters--he tells you Claggart's secret thoughts about Billy, and makes you feel the anguish Captain Vere experiences in making such a hard decision. But then sometimes he purposely excludes both himself and you from a scene--most notably when Vere goes to tell Billy that he must hang--and avoids making judgments. The shifting perspective and the drawing back from judgments force you to apply your own feelings and values to the events of the book. It draws you in and makes you experience the complexities of the situation. The narrator constantly makes allusions to the Bible and to Greek mythology, and this has the effect of elevating Billy's story into a symbolic drama. The narrator also has a habit of digressing, and he confesses that this weakness is a "literary sin." You might find these digressions distracting, but in fact when you stop to think about why the narrator has included them you see that they do shed light on the story. Not only does the narrator keep changing his point of view, but he keeps changing the pacing of the story as well. Broodings on history, or long analyses of characters are followed by intense dramatic action, such as Billy's being approached about a mutiny or his killing of Claggart. The narrator evokes the atmosphere of the ship through the use of light and dark, short but vivid descriptions, and through the poetic rhythms of his language. The narrator devotes the last two chapters of the novel to a newspaper story and a poem, both of which have voices and styles completely different from his own and depict Billy's story in a totally different light. Doesn't this make you think that the way a story is told can be at least as important as the story itself? BILLY BUDD: FORM AND STRUCTURE The narrator himself admits that Billy Budd lacks "symmetry of form, " but he claims that this is unavoidable since it's a true story, and the truth will always have its ragged edges. We know that this is, in fact not the case, that Billy Budd is a work of fiction, so why does Melville put this in? It draws your attention to the form and structure of the book and makes you think about what he means by truth. While you perceive the book's structure to be loose and flexible, you might find that the digressions, the fits and starts, and the alternation of long and short chapters are the best way of conveying the feel and meaning of Billy's story. Maybe the narrator means that Billy Budd is true in a deeper sense: Its form corresponds to the shape of real experience. Don't you find that when you're trying to make a major decision, or when you're living through some crucial event, your mind keeps jumping from one thing to another, sometimes dwelling on an analysis of the event, sometimes taking things in quickly and dramatically, sometimes inventing hypothetical situations to use as comparisons or contrasts? This is what the form and structure of Billy Budd are like. The book does not proceed in a strictly orderly fashion but begins by dwelling at length on character portraits, then shifts to fast action, slows down again to a long and closely argued trial scene, and then draws rapidly and dramatically to a close with the intense and cinematic hanging of Billy. Even after this event, the book lingers on to comment on it and tie up loose ends. Many readers feel that though the structure lacks symmetry, it coheres in a profound and moving way. BILLY BUDD: THE STORY The noose is around the handsome sailor's neck. The whole crew is standing by on the ship's deck. Captain Vere, the man who condemned Billy Budd to death, looks on without a flicker of emotion or movement as the sailor speaks his final words: "God bless Captain Vere!" Every person on board, including Vere himself, knows that Billy is an innocent man, and yet he must hang. The Captain gives the silent signal, and the sailor ascends on the yardarm (the long pole to which the top of the sail is bent). Billy dies as the sun breaks through the dawn clouds, illuminating his rose-and-tan colored face. Why must Billy die? How does this hanging of the innocent, good- looking sailor come about? Does Captain Vere make the right decision? Why are Billy's final words a blessing of the judge who condemned him? These are the questions you'll be asking yourself as you read through this story. And the way you answer them will be the basis of your interpretation of Billy Budd. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 1 The story begins with a vivid picture of the Handsome Sailor, not Billy himself, but the group to which Billy belongs. We learn right away what sets the Handsome Sailor apart from other sailors. We see them on shore leave, the "bronzed mariners" flanking this fellow like bodyguards of an important personage. They are proud of him-- not only because of the way he looks but for his nobility of spirit. He is like the first-magnitude star Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus. And yet, despite his superiority to his fellows, there is nothing vain about him. Rather, he has a "natural regality" combining strength and beauty. So, right from the start, we see that a very humble man like a sailor can have the qualities of an honored king. The Handsome Sailor comes to these qualities naturally. He is born with them, and all who know him recognize them and honor him. In fact, the Handsome Sailor is a hero. As we will soon see, this quality of heroism is crucial to understanding Billy Budd and his story. And somehow, this heroism seems even more grand because the story is set in an earlier time. "In the time before steamships" is how the book opens. The year is 1797, the stormy era of the Napoleonic Wars. For Melville, writing back in the 1890s, the time before steamships seemed like an age when greater deeds and nobler actions were possible. The narrator calls it a "less prosaic" time, a time when Handsome Sailors could be kingly heroes. NOTE: THE SUBTITLE, "AN INSIDE NARRATIVE" A clue that tells you that Billy Budd is not a wholly realistic book is the subtitle--"An inside narrative"--that appears in parentheses under the book's title. What can this mean? You might skip over it because you want to get on with the story, but it's worth pausing to think about. Narrative, we know, means that the written language is going to tell a story. But "inside?" There are many senses in which you can read this word, and each will have a bearing on your overall interpretation of Billy Budd. One sense is to think of it as an insider's narrative--a story told by someone who has the inside scoop, who has a privileged position and knows what's going on inside all the character's heads. You can also think of it as inside as opposed to outside: A narrative that occurs behind closed doors, hidden away in the recesses of the ship. On the other hand, it might mean inside in the sense of inside the mind. Thus, an inside narrative becomes a symbolic story of the inner workings of consciousness. In this reading, every major action and character stands for a spiritual or psychological concept. Your interpretation of Billy Budd will depend, in part, on the sense in which you read "an inside narrative." Keep this in mind as you go through the book. Now that we have a general description of the Handsome Sailor, the narrator gives us a specific example of one. Again, the example is in the form of a picture painted in strong, clear colors. We see a tall African man, "intensely black," whose face is shining with sweat on a hot day. He smiles "with barbaric good humor-" and his fellow sailors are proud to be seen with him. Though this seems to have nothing to do with the story of Billy Budd, it's actually an important digression, one of several in the book. That this particular Handsome Sailor is black shows more than the narrator's nonracist point of view. Colors, especially black and white, have a special importance in the story--one that is the reverse of what you might think. If you have read Moby-Dick, the story of the great white whale, you know that white, in that book, symbolizes evil, the absence of good qualities. In Billy Budd blackness has nothing to do with evil, it's just part of the sailor's good looks. (You'll notice that when the villain Claggart is introduced, a point is made of describing how sickly pale and white his skin is.) But that's not the only surprising association in this passage. Barbaric is linked with good humor. So, while you might think of barbaric as being cruel, dangerous, and savage, the narrator is telling you right away that, if you're barbaric, you can also be pleasant and sociable. As we'll soon see, the positive meanings of barbaric give us important insight into the character of Billy Budd himself. Having defined the Handsome Sailor both in general and with a specific example from Africa, the narrator now brings Billy Budd on the scene. Billy, we're told, is a Handsome Sailor as well, and has the noble nature of this type "with important variations made apparent as the story proceeds." The vagueness here only whets our appetite to read on. He's 21, and he's a foretopman in the British Navy, which means his position aboard ship is the platform on the mast located at the very front. How Billy got to be in the navy is an interesting story that occupies the remainder of Chapter 1. Before the novel opens, Billy was a sailor on board an English merchant ship that is sailing back home. The boat has the significant name of The Rights of Man (significant because this is also the title of a book by Thomas Paine that defends people's rights to stand up against an unjust government), and Billy is the favorite of everyone on board. But since 1797 was a time of war between the British and the French, people's rights must give way to requirements of battle. The British Navy needed every able-bodied man it could get, and if enough men didn't enlist, the crew of a warship could be filled by impressing sailors from other non- military ships. This meant that the naval officers would board a private ship, select the crew members they wanted, and force them to join the crew of the warship, whether they wanted to or not. Though it sounds almost like piracy, it was perfectly legal at the time. In Billy's case, Lieutenant Ratcliffe of the warship Bellipotent boards The Rights of Man, spots the Handsome Sailor as good naval material, and impresses him into service on the spot. Captain Graveling of The Rights of Man is nearly reduced to tears when he learns that his "jewel" is being taken away. Billy, he tells the bluff Ratcliffe, was the ship's peacemaker--not because he gave sermons to the crew, but because "a virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones." One sailor, however, resisted Billy's spell--a fellow called Red Whiskers, who took a dislike to Billy and teased and provoked him. One day, Graveling relates, when Red Whiskers went too far in his provocations, and Billy could no longer stand it, he "quick as lightning" let fly with his fists, giving the man a "terrible drubbing." Surprisingly enough, Red Whiskers loved Billy from then on, and there was no more trouble on board. What do we make of this incident with Red Whiskers? Isn't there something contradictory in Billy's sweetness and his violence, something brutish in settling a score with your fists? On the other hand, Red Whiskers did persecute Billy for no reason and seemed to get what he deserved. Billy's spontaneous lashing-out on board The Rights of Man directly foreshadows the central action in the book, and the way you feel about this incident will have an impact on your interpretation of the whole. It's too soon for you to make a final judgment on Billy, but keep this scene and your reaction to it in mind as you read on. As Chapter 1 ends, Billy takes up his new position as able seaman assigned to the starboard (right-hand side facing forward) watch of the Bellipotent. The ship's name suggests the power of war--a far cry from The Rights of Man, the ship and the situation that Billy has now left behind forever. It's going to be a new world, with new rules, and new dangers for Billy. How will he handle it? Let's read on and see.... BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 2 This chapter gives us many of the details of Billy's history, appearance, and personality that you may have wondered about after meeting him in Chapter 1. But on a deeper level, Billy's fate and the theme of his story can't be distinguished from his character. Even the name "Billy Budd" makes you stop and think: Billy suggests a simple, boyish, common person; Budd makes you think of a flower bud about to unfold, or maybe "nipped in the bud." As you picture the images that describe Billy, you'll not only get a clearer sense of him, but also a better idea of what the book means. BILLY'S PHYSICAL APPEARANCE We already know that Billy is handsome, but here we get to know what he really looks like. He appears even younger than his age, because his face is smooth and "all but feminine in purity of natural complexion," with a coloring of rose and tan. His face has a "humane look of reposeful good nature" that reminds the narrator of the Greek strong man Hercules. When he's transferred to the Bellipotent, he's compared to a beautiful country girl who comes to court for the first time. Combining both masculine power and feminine softness, his looks let you know that he's pure of heart, good-natured, and strong. BILLY'S BACKGROUND AND ANCESTRY The narrator tells us that Billy is a foundling child; he has no family and doesn't even know who his parents are. But, the narrator continues, anyone who looks so noble must be of aristocratic descent, and so he concludes that Billy was a by-blow (illegitimate child) of some English lord. Again, this information leads to several interpretations. Realistically speaking, it explains the mystery of how so noble-looking a man could be a common sailor. But if we interpret it symbolically, being illegitimate increases Billy's isolation and uniqueness as a special being with no relatives. BILLY'S MORAL NATURE The narrator uses Hercules to describe Billy's appearance. But to describe his moral nature and his values, he turns to the Bible and the story of Adam, the father of mankind, who fell from innocence through the traps of Satan. Billy Budd has often been called the American Adam, and this identification points to one of the book's major themes--the destruction of innocence by evil. Billy, we are told, is "a sort of upright barbarian," just like Adam before the "urbane Serpent wriggled himself into his company." He can't read; therefore, he hasn't yet bitten into the "questionable apple of knowledge." Remember the African with his "barbaric good humor" in chapter 1? It's in this sense that Billy and Adam--and for that matter the islanders of Typee--are barbaric: natural, unselfconscious, gullible, and unsuspecting. His opposite is the "urbane Serpent," a sly, sneaky, fast-talking liar you might find hustling innocent tourists in a big city, or worming his way into the Garden of Eden. Billy is so innocent he can't even imagine that anyone could have this kind of evil. How's he going to handle himself when he finally meets evil face to face? We'll soon see. Do you know anyone like Billy Budd: someone so good-hearted and simple he seems to be in another world, someone you could easily trick but you'd never want to, someone you make fun of but secretly admire because he's so honest and fair? Or do you think this kind of innocence is impossible in the real world? Is Billy too good to be true? Maybe Melville was worried about the unreality of his hero when he gave Billy his one defect--the stutter that comes out when he's upset. Why do you think a stutter is Billy's one flaw? Melville might have chosen a physical deformity of some sort, as Hawthorne did in the tale of "The Birthmark" (a story about a beautiful lady's beauty mark referred to in this chapter.) The stutter, as we'll see, prevents Billy from speaking at the most critical moment in his life. And because he can't speak, he must act--once again with his fists. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 3 Having introduced Billy and filled in some important details about his character, the narrator now leaves him and launches into two important digressions. The first one, in Chapter 3, tells us about the naval mutinies that went on during the period in which Billy's story takes place. When you read this, you might be wondering what happened to Billy, because he's totally off the scene. What do these mutinies have to do with a handsome sailor who's just been forced to join the British Navy? Before answering, let's see what the digression is about. NOTE: TWO MUTINIES IN THE BRITISH NAVY Nothing causes more of a crisis on shipboard than a mutiny. The crew rebels, and since they always out-number the officers, they can take command of the ship and do whatever they want. A mutiny during wartime is even more disastrous: It's equivalent to committing treason. And this is exactly what happened in the British Navy during the spring of 1797, not once but twice, first at Spithead off the coast of England, and then at the Nore, on the Thames near London. The Nore Mutiny was so serious it became known as the Great Mutiny. British authorities were terrified that naval mutinies would spread like wildfire and blaze up into a revolution that would eventually overthrow the government--like the revolution that had so recently engulfed France. The fear proved to be unfounded. The mutinies were put down, and the crews returned to loyal service under their king. But a new and more severe law--the Mutiny Act--was passed so that ship captains could act fast in the case of another mutiny. Think about how tense everyone feels at an airport after a hijacking. That's how stressful things were in the British Navy after these mutinies. And remember that Billy Budd takes place during the summer of 1797, just a few months after they occurred. Can you imagine how worried the captain and officers of the Bellipotent must have been that another mutiny would break out on their ship? We'll soon see how important this atmosphere of fear and tension is in determining Billy Budd's fate when trouble does break out on the ship. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTERS 4 AND 5 These two short chapters go off on another digression. They paint the portrait of one of the greatest admirals in the history of the British Navy, Horatio Nelson. Again, they don't really further the book's plot, but they do add a lot to its underlying themes. Lord Nelson was a great hero and, as we already know, Billy Budd is a kind of hero, too. What was different about the heroism of these two men? Let's see if the portrait of Lord Nelson has the answer. NOTE: A PORTRAIT OF LORD NELSON Lord Nelson, nicknamed the Great Sailor, rose to fame for his bravery at sea during the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1815) between France and the great monarchies of Europe,-- Great Britain, Austria, and Russia. What set Lord Nelson apart from other admirals of his day was that he insisted on fighting out in the open with his men, and he died in 1805, leading the British fleet into the Battle of Trafalgar (off Spain). The British won the battle, but they lost "the greatest sailor since our world began." The narrator of Billy Budd praises Lord Nelson for his "glorious death." "Personal prudence," he says, "surely is no special virtue in a military man; while an excessive love of glory... is the first. " Is Billy Budd's heroism similar to Lord Nelson's? Billy would certainly be brave in any battle, not so much for "love of glory" but because it would never occur to him to be afraid. Lord Nelson is a leader of thousands of men, but Billy is just himself. He's heroic because he's so much himself: kind, solid, and dependable. You'd gladly trust your life to him in a dangerous situation, but you wouldn't want him to be your general or admiral. Billy's heroism is based on personal goodness; Lord Nelson's on passionate and impulsive leadership. Neither is an intellectual kind of hero: both act naturally and spontaneously from the heart. We're about to meet another leader in Chapter 6, Captain Vere, commander of the Bellipotent. Since you'll have the portrait of Lord Nelson fresh in your mind, it will be easy to compare these two leaders. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTERS 6 AND 7 A PORTRAIT OF CAPTAIN VERE Though the story is called Billy Budd, many readers would argue that the most important person in it is really Captain Vere. These two chapters paint his portrait. Let's see what it looks like. The captain's full name is the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere. He's about 40 years old, a bachelor, and "a sailor of distinction." The name Vere, like the name Billy Budd, suggests several meanings: it brings to mind the Latin words "vir" (man, manhood, hero), "verus" (truth), and the verb "vereor" (to revere, or to fear). Also Vere, it turns out, is an actual name of a distinguished aristocratic English family. Noble birth is something Vere has in common with Lord Nelson and also, oddly enough, with Billy. (Some readers even suggest that Billy is Vere's bastard son! We'll see more about a father-son tie between them later on.) Like Nelson, Vere rose to his high position not only because of his connections with the right people, but because he treated his crew members well and was brave in battle. But here the resemblance ends. Captain Vere is an intellectual, who enjoys reading histories and biographies, especially if they agree with his own settled opinions. Some of his fellow officers find him a bit pedantic, remote, and hard to relate to. He likes to commune privately with himself, "gazing off at the blank sea" and thinking his own thoughts. Vere, we are told, is "intrepid... but never injudiciously so." He has "sterling qualities, " but "no brilliant ones." In other words, he's the kind of man who does his job well, but doesn't take unnecessary risks: He thinks things through before he acts. What a far cry from Lord Nelson rushing with his men into battle with an "excessive love of glory"! The captain has a nickname, "Starry Vere," which comes from the poem "Upon Appleton House" by the 17th-century poet Andrew Marvell. Though he got the nickname from one of his cousins after a great sea victory had made him something of a star, it stuck because of his habit of staring dreamily out to sea, like a star-gazer. Vere's nickname makes you think of about as many different meanings as his regular name. One critic called Vere a "typical intellectual," who'd rather be off by himself thinking and dreaming than actually doing anything. Since the nickname comes from a poem about real, historical figures, you can say it makes Vere more real and more interesting. Or you might say the nickname removes him one step further from the actual world, and pushes him into the made-up world of books. NOTE: Who would you rather have as your leader--Vere or Nelson? It's a good thing to consider, because the way you feel about Vere is going to be a major part of the way you feel about the entire book. Do you think people in positions of power should be intellectual types, who read, ponder, and maybe even get a little dreamy at times? Or do you think the best leaders are passionate, impulsive men like Nelson? Vere is certainly less dramatic and colorful. But are the best leaders always the most exciting men? It's a question people have been asking since time began. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 8 Chapter 8 introduces the third major character in Billy Budd, its villain John Claggart. At this point, you might find yourself getting a little tired of meeting characters without anything happening. What happened to the story line? Where's the plot? We get portrait after portrait--Billy, Nelson, Vere, and now Claggart--but no action. What gives? There is exciting action in Billy Budd, and you'll get there very soon, but meanwhile maybe you should ask yourself if there isn't also something exciting and dramatic in the way these different characters are presented. Could it be that part of the story of Billy Budd is in the contrast and tension between these different types of men? Maybe it's not action in the outside sense, but in the inside sense (remember the subtitle--an inside narrative?). Billy, Vere, and Claggart, with their very different traits of innocence, cautious leadership, and evil, are all on one ship together--but couldn't their ship be any enclosed community... your town, your block, your classroom? Maybe all of these qualities are even inside you! Part of the excitement of Billy Budd comes in this very realization--when you put innocence and evil and leadership all in one boat, you just know there's going to be trouble... A PORTRAIT OF JOHN CLAGGART When the narrator introduces John Claggart, he says, "His portrait I essay, but shall never hit it." Why not? Why should it be harder to paint this picture than Billy's or Vere's? We'll come back to this problem in Chapter 11 when the narrator tries to answer the question: What was the matter with John Claggart? Meanwhile, we get to see what Claggart looks like, and we hear some hints of the mystery that surrounds him. Outwardly, Claggart is a good-looking enough man. Thirty-five years old, tall and thin, he has a handsome face with features "cleanly cut as those on a Greek medallion." There are only two things wrong with the way Claggart looks: he's got a strange, protuberant chin, and an unhealthy whiteness to his complexion that "hints of something defective or abnormal in the constitution." Part of the reason his skin is so pale has to do with his position on the ship, which, though it's called master-at-arms, really boils down to spying on the crew. Down below the decks, Claggart lurks and sneaks with his "peculiar ferreting genius," sticking his chin into other people's business while Billy is way above the ship, manning the foretop platform. In the middle is Captain Vere, gazing out to sea and thinking deep thoughts. Do you see the symbolism in these positions? What about Claggart's background and character? All is shrouded in darkness. No one knows for sure where he comes from, what his social class or education is, why he's in the navy, and whether he's really English. Rumors go around that he was in trouble with the law, and there's a strong hint that he was snatched from jail and impressed into naval service. Claggart does nothing to contradict the nasty rumors and never makes any reference to his former life. All of this just makes him seem more sinister, and adds to the mystery of the question: Who is John Claggart and what is his problem? The chapter ends by referring to his "underground influence" over his lowly henchmen, and how he can make this influence work to the "mysterious discomfort" of the other sailors. You ask, what kind of discomfort and which sailor in particular? Can't you feel the suspense building as this spidery man weaves his web? BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 9 Many of you will breathe a sigh of relief when Billy finally comes back in this chapter. Not only are you glad to be away from Claggart, but you can expect the action to pick up. It may make you a little nervous, though, to see Billy right after Claggart is introduced. It's this kind of juxtaposition that plants ideas in your mind about the plot and also brings out the book's symbolic structure, so much of which is based on contrasts of people and ideas. Life is going well for Billy on board the Bellipotent. He's made friends with the other foretopmen, and when they have free time, they enjoy lounging together "like lazy gods" up on their platform and looking down on the ship below. Billy works hard and wants to make a good impression, partly because he's that kind of person, and partly because he's seen what happens if you're caught goofing off: you get flogged. NOTE: FLOGGING The practice of flogging was still going on in 1843- 44 when Melville did his one year stint in the U.S. Navy, and in this short time he witnessed 163 floggings. The practice filled him with horror, and he wrote about it with outrage in several of his early books. When a flogging is administered, the wrongdoer was stripped of his shirt, and his back was beaten a dozen times with a cat-o'-nine tails until 108 blood welts appeared. Flogging was not abolished in the U.S. Navy until 1850. Billy, like Melville, is horrified by flogging, and he vows never to slip up, so he won't be in danger of getting punished. Imagine, then, how surprised and worried he is when he starts getting into "petty trouble" (for matters like how he stows his bag) with the lower deck corporals who spy for Claggart. How can this be happening to him, he wonders. He just has to get to the bottom of it, and so he turns to his friend, the old Dansker (man from Denmark), for help. The old man is as wrinkled, cynical, and weather-beaten as Billy is fresh- faced, gullible, and young, and they sure make an odd pair of friends. Billy looks up to old "Board-Her-in-the-Smoke" (the Dansker's nickname) not only because he seems wise, but because he once served under Lord Nelson. The Dansker likes Billy because Billy shows respect for age, and he gives him the nickname Baby Budd as a kind of joke on Billy's youth and innocence. But beneath the joke, he worries a little about his new friend. If Billy ever gets into a "moral emergency," the Dansker thinks, his "simple courage" will be no match for a subtle and secretive enemy. Who can he be thinking of? When Billy tells the Dansker about his problem, the old man replies: "Baby Budd, Jemmy Legs is down on you." Jemmy Legs, it turns out, is Claggart's nickname. (Everyone, it seems, has a nickname on board the Bellipotent, from Starry Vere down to the master-at-arms. Jemmy Legs was a common nickname for someone in Claggart's position. Doesn't it make you think of a prying, long-legged spider?) Billy is more shocked and mystified than ever by what the Dansker tells him. Claggart has always seemed to like him, and even calls him "the sweet and pleasant young fellow." If Claggart is down on him, why is he being so nice? It's just like Billy to think that everyone is as honest and straightforward as he is. The Dansker has said all he feels like saying on the subject, and the chapter ends with Billy in the dark. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 10 This very short chapter brings Billy and Claggart together, for the first time, in an incident that seems quite trivial. However, it turns out to have some very important consequences for Billy and his future. It's noontime and Billy is down below, having dinner, and joking around with his shipmates. Suddenly the ship rolls and Billy accidentally spills his entire bowl of soup on the freshly scrubbed deck. Who should walk by at that very moment but Claggart. He's about to step over the "greasy liquid" that streams across his path, when he notices who spilled it. All at once his expression changes, he goes up behind Billy and taps his back with his switch made of rattan. "Handsomely done my lad!" Claggart says in a low musical voice. "And handsome is as handsome did it, too!" Then he walks on, his face still twisted into a nasty grimace. Now what do you make of this scene? Billy takes it as proof that the Dansker was wrong about Claggart being down on him. Though his mates give a fake laugh at Claggart's feeble joke, Billy laughs for real because Claggart has called him handsome. But isn't Billy being a little too literal? Even if you can't see the ugly look on Claggart's face, it's obvious he's being sarcastic. But this is the last thing that would occur to Billy. Do you think there might be something symbolic in the action here? Some readers say the scene has strong sexual overtones, and that part of Claggart's problem is suppressed sexual attraction to Billy. We'll think about this more when we get to Chapter 17. Meanwhile, we eagerly read on to find out more about what's going on inside the obviously warped mind of John Claggart. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTERS 11, 12, AND 13 What's the matter with Claggart, and why does he have it in for Billy? These are the questions that chapters 11, 12, and 13 consider in depth, and they are central questions to your whole understanding of Billy Budd. CLAGGART AND THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY Do you understand evil? Have you experienced it? There's the horror movie kind of evil, where someone gets possessed by the devil and goes berserk killing people. And then there's the real life evil of people who mug or rob or attack others because they need drugs, or because they want revenge, or because they're so angry they can't control themselves. But these are examples, not explanations. Evil is a mystery at its core and always has been. There are motives you can point to and reasons you can find for crime and war and atom bombs, but deep down evil just seems to be a force that men can neither control nor erase. Remember when John Claggart was introduced in Chapter 8, and the narrator said he would try, but would never succeed, in painting Claggart's portrait? Now we see that the reason for this is that Claggart is the agent of evil in Billy Budd, and evil is a mystery. The narrator goes back to a phrase from the Bible to capture the essence of this idea: "The mystery of iniquity." Wickedness like Claggart's is one of the very basic unknowns of human nature. Though it will never be explained, it can be defined. What are some of the characteristics of the "mystery of iniquity" in John Claggart? 1. SPONTANEOUS HATRED At the start of Chapter 11, the narrator admits that though Claggart is, in fact, down on Billy, there is no reason in Billy's character or history to explain it. Claggart does not know a dark secret about Billy, and they never had any dealings with each other before the incident of the spilled soup. Billy's "very harmlessness itself" creates a spontaneous hatred in Claggart's heart. Why should this be? To understand it, the narrator says, you must cross "the deadly space between" a normal nature and a depraved nature. You won't figure it out by knowing law, or even by having a knowledge of the world. You must go into the "obscure spiritual places" in the darkness of the human heart. 2. NATURAL DEPRAVITY Natural depravity is, according to the narrator, a term used by the Greek philosopher Plato to define certain evil men who are depraved "according to nature." This means that the evil is inborn, that it's at the root of their personalities and not caused by falling in with a bad crowd or reading sick books. He goes on to tell us that men of this type are "dominated by intellectuality" and further, that there is something in civilized society that seems to produce them and allow them to flourish. (When you remember that Captain Vere is the other intellectual on board, you see that he shares certain traits with Claggart, just as he shares other traits with Billy. You'll find more parallels like this as the book proceeds.) Naturally depraved men are smart enough to pretend that they're normal and respectable; they don't get drunk, or steal, or chase women, or cheat others out of their money. In fact, they're too proud for any "vices or small sins." Wasn't pride Satan's major sin? And doesn't the narrator compare Billy to Adam, the "upright barbarian," who has none of the sophisticated urbanity of civilization? Do you see how the narrator is stacking up certain concepts and values: pride, intellectualism, civilization, and depravity, on the one hand; barbarism, innocence, simplicity, and emotional straightforwardness on the other? This is how he turns the conflict between Billy and Claggart into a symbolic drama. 3. A CLEAR HEAD AND A RIOTING HEART Maybe the most disturbing thing about Claggart is how he keeps his mind completely cool and rational while his heart is bent on the sickest and most horrible acts. "These men are madmen, and of the most dangerous sort," the narrator concludes, because their madness uses clear-headed reasoning to accomplish its diseased purposes. Also, these men keep their aims a secret. So if you met Claggart, you might not like him, but you'd never have anything specific to hold against him. He would seem smart, straight, rational, and totally controlled, while inside he was plotting your downfall. This is part of the mystery of iniquity. 4. A COMBINATION OF ENVY AND ANTIPATHY Did you ever feel really envious of someone for being, say, more popular or a better athlete than you, and yet at the same time basically dislike that person and want to see him fail? It may seem like a contradiction: You want what the other person has, yet you dislike him for having it, but that's the way this kind of mean feeling works. And that's exactly what Claggart feels toward Billy. Though he first singles out Billy for his "significant personal beauty," he's smart enough to see that Billy is as good and noble as he looks. And this is what really burns him up. Part of him tries to look down on Billy: "To be nothing more than innocent!" he thinks disdainfully. But part of him secretly wishes he could be the same. Deep down, though, he knows it's impossible. So, the narrator tells us, "apprehending the good, but powerless to be it," someone like Claggart has no choice but to turn in on himself "like the scorpion. " There's something doubly chilling in the image of the scorpion when the narrator reminds us that "the Creator alone is responsible" for it. Does this mean that a devil like Claggart is as much a part of God's master plan as an angel like Billy? 5. A CONSCIENCE THAT JUSTIFIES THE WILL'S HATRED Everyone, even a devil, has a conscience, the narrator says, so what about Claggart's? He's got the kind of conscience that makes him feel that everything he does and thinks is right. Since he hates Billy, he convinces himself that Billy hates him, too--and he takes the soup-spilling as proof of it. He's so paranoid, he turns a trivial incident into a monstrous crime and decides that he's perfectly justified in seeking revenge. So even having a conscience, which keeps most people's evil impulses in check, just feeds the fires of Claggart's secret hatred of Billy. The worst part is that he's got enough power on the ship and enough spies working for him that he can easily set traps to keep persecuting Billy. And, as you're about to see, he doesn't waste much time doing it! BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 14 It's a warm night at sea, so Billy and a few of his shipmates go up on deck to sleep by the booms (long poles) piled between the foremast and mainmast. Billy is awakened from a deep sleep by a touch on his shoulder and a voice whispering "there is something in the wind." The voice tells him to sneak into the lee forechains (an isolated platform overhanging the sea and screened from view by piles of ropes and chains). As you can probably predict by now, Billy's not the type to say no to anything unless it seems really bad or stupid. So even though he's still half asleep, he gets up and goes to the meeting place. Can you imagine how shocked Billy is when the stranger joins him and starts dropping all sorts of hints about a mutiny? He doesn't come right out and say it, but first he mentions that he, like Billy, was impressed, and then he offers him money if he'll "help--at a pinch." Billy gets so worked up at the very idea that he begins to stutter, and he stutters out a threat to throw the man (whom he identifies as one of the afterguard) overboard if he doesn't beat it. The man scuttles away in the darkness, but the racket wakes up some of the crew. One asks what the commotion was about, but Billy, now calm enough to control his stutter, hides the truth, and merely says he came across an afterguardsman and told him to get lost. The others grumble for a while about what sneaks the afterguards are, and then they all forget about it and go back to sleep. All except for Billy, that is... BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 15 Billy feels "sorely puzzled" and uneasy. Nothing like this has ever happened to him before and he keeps wondering what this underhanded intrigue can mean. The more he wonders about it, the more upset and confused he becomes. NOTE: AN IMAGE OF A HORSE AND CHEMICAL FACTORY The narrator compares Billy's confused state of mind here to that of a "young horse fresh from the pasture," who suddenly inhales "a vile whiff from some chemical factory" and keeps snorting and snorting to try to get the smell out of its nostrils. How relevant this image is to our own times of air pollution and toxic waste! It also suggests that one theme of Billy Budd might be about the transition from a simple world of green pastures to a mechanized society dominated by smokestacks, rigid factory schedules, and inhuman rules. Billy's kind of heroism and innocence simply can't survive in a world of polluting factories and corrupt cities. Even though the whole shady business is constantly gnawing at his insides, it never occurs to Billy to report this possible mutiny to the ship's officers. Do you think he's wrong? What would you do in his place? Would you keep it to yourself because, like Billy, you think that reporting on one of your shipmates seems like the "dirty work of a telltale"? Or would you consider it more important to save the ship from possible danger no matter how it reflected on you? The narrator says that Billy's impulse not to be a telltale is "one of novice magnanimity"--which means the generous noble-mindedness of someone without much experience. Keep the word "magnanimity" in mind when you get to Chapter 22. Meanwhile, Billy just can't keep his worries bottled up any longer, and he opens up to the old Dansker. The wise old man quickly reads between the lines and takes this incident with the afterguardsman as further evidence that Claggart is out for Billy. This really throws Billy for a loop, and he demands an explanation. The Dansker, who loves to come out with pithy but obscure utterances, like the ancient oracles at Delphi, just says, "A cat's paw." This is a nautical term for a light puff of wind on a calm sea, which might mean that the incident is the first sign of a storm coming. But doesn't it also make you think of a cat swatting at a mouse with its paw? The chubby mutineer is really Claggart's agent--the paw that toys with Billy, while the cat stays out of sight. Billy still doesn't get it, but try as he might, he can't make the Dansker explain. Long experience at sea has taught the old man the "bitter prudence" of keeping his nose out of other people's business and never giving advice. Billy is left all alone with his troubles and more baffled than ever. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 16 Why, despite the Dansker's warnings, did Billy refuse to suspect Claggart of scheming against him? This short chapter attempts to answer the question by looking at the impact of a life at sea on Billy's character. Billy, the narrator tells us, has intelligence and a limited amount of experience, yet he remains a "childman" with his innocence fundamentally intact. Part of the reason is that he lacks an "intuitive knowledge of the bad," which allows less virtuous people to imagine sins they haven't yet done. Another reason for Billy's "simple-mindedness" is that he's "an old-fashioned sailor" who's spent almost his entire life at sea. NOTE: THE SAILOR VERSUS THE LANDSMAN As you've already seen, Melville keeps building up contrasts between different types of people and values throughout Billy Budd. There's the barbarian versus the urbane, civilized man; the emotional man versus the intellectual; and the glory-seeking hero versus the prudent leader. Here the contrast is between the frank, honest sailor and the landsman who knows the subtleties, tricks, and deceptive appearances of civilized life. Life on shore is a game where everything is hidden and indirect; it can be quite challenging, but it's ultimately barren, boring, and hardly worth playing. Life at sea is simple, active, and straightforward; it's real, not a game, but the sailors remain juvenile because they never take responsibility for their own lives. Everything is ordered and controlled for them by the officers and shipboard routines. The sailor might be a nice, honest guy, but like a child, he always gets tricked. The shrewd, suspicious landsman looks out for himself, but dishonesty has become his second nature. As with so much in Billy Budd, there is no simple right and wrong. Keeping an eye out for other contrasts between the land and the sea will help clue you in to some of the book's underlying themes. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 17 Tension mounts on board the Bellipotent as Claggart tightens his web around Billy. Innocence is Billy's blinder as he walks thoroughly unsuspecting into Claggart's trap. Claggart plays into Billy's innocence by acting extra nice to him whenever they run into each other. But often, when Billy isn't looking, Claggart stares at him and all sorts of strange expressions pass across his face. Sometimes there's even a "touch of soft yearning" in Claggart's eyes, as though he "could even have loved Billy," if it wasn't banned or fated not to be. Then, the next second, his face gets as pinched as "a wrinkled walnut," and there's nothing but hate and anger in his eyes. Some readers pick up a sexual meaning here and say that part of the reason Claggart wants to destroy Billy is that he feels an attraction to him, and it fills him with rage. It's certainly clear that Claggart can't keep his eyes and his thoughts off Billy. Don't you feel that this passage about Claggart's expressions and yearnings makes him more real and more complex? There's even a hint of something sympathetic in him when he gazes longingly at Billy, and the narrator notes he looks like "the man of sorrows," by which he means Christ. What an odd way of describing such a devil! Yet wasn't Satan himself once one of the most beautiful and important angels? So maybe Claggart is a kind of fallen angel, and Billy's beauty and goodness remind him of everything he's lost. Nonetheless, Claggart's sorrowing melancholy has burnt away to pure hatred by the end of the chapter. He hides his "monomania" to destroy Billy behind a calm exterior, but "like a subterranean fire, " it's eating deeper and deeper into him. The narrator sounds the note of foreboding doom when he ends the chapter: "Something decisive must come of it." Something does--soon! BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 18 The Bellipotent, a fast ship, has been sent out on a scouting mission and is miles away from the rest of the fleet. They sight a French frigate and give chase, but fail to catch the enemy. Now they're even farther away from the British fleet. Captain Vere is naturally irritated that the French escaped his heavy guns, and he goes up on deck to cool off and think things over. Who should suddenly appear but Claggart, waiting patiently to catch Vere's attention. When Vere finally notices him, he feels a "vaguely repellent distaste" for the man, though he doesn't know why. He asks Claggart what's on his mind, and Claggart, acting as if he's really sorry to be bringing bad news, tells the captain about this "dangerous character" on board who's been stirring up trouble, not only with men recently involved in other mutinies, but with some of the impressed sailors. The more he talks, the more Claggart keeps referring in sly little ways to these mutinies and subtly implying that this "dangerous character" is about to cause a similar mutiny on board the Bellipotent. Vere's distaste explodes into anger. Was Claggart trying to scare or threaten him, or what? How dare he make insinuations about a mutiny at such a time? But what if he's lying? The captain decides to confront Claggart, and he demands to know who this dangerous man is. Claggart comes out with it: William Budd. Vere is thunderstruck. How could the popular guy, whom everyone calls the Handsome Sailor, be the ringleader of a mutiny? Looks can be deceiving, Claggart craftily replies. Under the "ruddy-tipped daisies" of Billy's fair cheek there lurks a deep "mantrap." Do you see how cleverly Claggart has reversed the truth--turning the honest Billy into a deceiving snake and himself into an upright dutiful man? He makes Billy sound almost like some kind of seducer. We'll see how far this reversal of roles is taken as the novel reaches its climax. Vere pauses to think back over his impressions of Billy. Like the narrator, he, too, felt that there was something in Billy just like Adam before the Fall. Billy was also working out well in his job, and Vere was considering recommending him for a promotion. All in all, Vere considers Billy a "King's bargain," meaning a sailor who has brought a big return to his country for the lowest price. (You'll see how both Billy and Vere invoke the King's name in a very different context later in the book.) Vere decides that if Claggart doesn't have some hard evidence to prove his case against Billy, he'll personally see that he hangs for spreading lies! But as Claggart presents his case, Vere becomes less sure of what to think. He just can't figure out what's going on inside this man's mind. Assuming he's lying, what should be done about it? If the story leaks out to the ship, won't it be bad for morale? Better to keep the whole thing a secret. That way, he can figure out some test for Claggart that will reveal him to be a liar, and the whole affair will be settled before it causes any disturbance. Vere decides to conduct this test in the privacy of his own cabin. He sends his sea-valet, Albert, to find Billy and bring him down on the sly, and he tells Claggart to come down in a few minutes. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 19 Here, at the climax of Billy Budd, the action is quick and decisive, and yet all the major themes of the book come together. Let's look at the action first, and then at the issues it raises. The events are so intense you can almost picture the scene running like a play or movie: The captain's cabin is neat and trim, but rather dark. Three men are standing in it: Vere, Billy, and Claggart. The captain orders Claggart to say his piece. The tall, pale, dark-haired master-at- arms walks up to the blond, athletic sailor and stares him fiercely in the eye. He delivers his charge: conspiracy to cause a mutiny. Billy's tan cheeks go dead white. It's as if Claggart has hypnotized him. He can't open his mouth or stop staring at Claggart's eyes, which suddenly turn muddy-purple and bug out of his head like fish- eyes. "Speak, man!" the captain shouts to Billy. "Defend yourself!" But all Billy can do is flail his arms and gurgle. He's completely tongue-tied by his stutter. He looks as if he's been buried alive and is starting to suffocate. Vere, instantly perceiving what the problem is, goes up to Billy, puts his hand on his shoulder and says in a kind, fatherly voice, "There is no hurry, my boy. Take your time." But this just makes things worse for Billy. His face is so twisted with the agony of trying to speak that looking at him is like seeing Christ being crucified. It's horrible! Then suddenly, quick as a cannon exploding, Billy shoots out his right arm and connects squarely with Claggart's forehead. Claggart falls to the deck. "Fated boy," Vere whispers. "What have you done!" Together they try to pick Claggart up, but he's all floppy like a dead snake. Vere takes command and acts quickly. He orders Billy to shut himself up in a back stateroom and stay there until he's called. Then he summons the ship's surgeon to come in and examine the body. The surgeon takes one look at the pale face covered with black blood and knows Claggart is dead, but he goes through the usual tests anyway. Vere, who only a minute ago was acting calm and in control, now seems to be completely distracted. The surgeon looks on with real concern as the captain stands motionless and then, as if coming out of a trance, exclaims vehemently: "Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!" The doctor is amazed. What is his captain talking about? But Vere seems to be regaining his composure. He rapidly fills the doctor in on what's happened and asks him to help move the body to the room opposite Billy's temporary prison. And he tells him to bring in the lieutenants and the captain of the marines. There's going to be a drumhead court (meaning a quickly convened trial held during wartime) and Billy's fate will be decided at once! What an amazing scene this is! The action is so dramatic, you might skip over some of the important images and issues. So let's take some time to look at them more carefully. BILLY BUDD AS CHRISTLIKE VICTIM OR SINFUL MAN? Did you notice the spiritual and religious imagery associated with Billy in this chapter? He's compared to a vestal priestess (in ancient Rome, the vestals were virgin girls who guarded the sacred fire in the temple of Vesta, goddess of the hearth), "an angel of God," and, at his moment of greatest torment, his face has an expression "which was as a crucifixion to behold." Do you feel that these images, especially the last, turn Billy into a kind of Christ figure? like Christ, he suffers for his goodness, and he keeps silent when accused of wrongdoing. But Christ keeps silent by choice, and he teaches you to turn the other cheek; Billy keeps silent because he can't speak, and, far from turning the other cheek, he strikes out violently and kills his accuser in cold blood. How do you judge Billy for striking Claggart dead? Why do you think he hits Claggart in the forehead, which the narrator calls "so intellectual-looking a feature"? Maybe it symbolizes the unbridled emotions rising up to destroy the intellect. If so, does that make you sympathize with Billy more, or less? Do you think it's right that someone so violent and uncontrolled should be portrayed as a handsome, "innocent" hero? Or do you think Billy behaved naturally-- that he was provoked to violence and acted in the only way possible? Though this is a highly emotional scene, it's packed with moral issues. You'll have to consult both your gut feelings and your sense of right and wrong to make up your mind. JOHN CLAGGART AS SATAN You've known all along that Claggart embodies demonic evil, but here you see it most forcefully. When the narrator says his corpse was like "a dead snake," it not only makes you feel how limp and slimy he is, but you think of Satan when he turned himself into a serpent to trick Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. If you go for a strong, symbolic interpretation of Billy Budd, this is the passage that gives the most direct evidence of Claggart as Satan. Also notice how, when Claggart is staring Billy down, the narrator compares his expression to a "mesmeristic glance of... serpent fascination" and then to the "paralyzing lurch of the torpedo fish." Like Satan, he changes shape and he fascinates his victims only to destroy them. If Claggart is Satan, and Billy combines some of the attributes of both Adam and Christ, what does that make Vere? DECIDING ABOUT CAPTAIN VERE From this point on, it will be more and more important for you to make up your mind about Captain Vere. What you think about him will determine your whole view of Billy Budd. Do you find him sympathetic and humane in this scene? He tries hard to be nice to Billy, and, more than once, the narrator calls him fatherly. Once Billy strikes Claggart dead, Vere is overcome by pity- -not for Claggart, but for Billy. He seems to grasp intuitively the symbolic meaning of the situation when he says, "Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!" No wonder he loses control of himself for a minute. Vere loves Billy the way God loved Adam, yet he knows justice must be done. Though he understands the workings of the human heart, he looks beyond the immediate circumstance to the eternal truths. Thus Vere, both stern and pitying, can be seen as a symbol for the Old Testament Jehovah or God the Father. But maybe you reject this reading entirely! Vere might strike you as weak, narrow-minded, presumptuous, and contradictory. How, you ask, can he decide so quickly that Billy must hang? Isn't he jumping the gun? If he knows Billy must hang, why summon a drumhead court? Why is he still keeping everything such a secret--locking Billy and Claggart away in closets? What does this accomplish? Anyway, his whole plan of bringing them together was stupid from the start, and so he's in part to blame for what happened. Far from being like God, you might think Vere is a very limited, fearful, and pompous man who is about to waste a wonderful life for no good reason. Still other readers think Vere is neither godlike nor weak, but just a very intelligent man in a really tough spot. They say that Billy Budd is about the difficulty of making an almost impossible decision. And to cap it all off, the ship's surgeon thinks Vere might have gone insane! The next chapter follows things up from his point of view... BILLY BUDD: CHAPTERS 20 AND 21 Is Captain Vere insane? Chapter 20 and the start of 21 discuss this question, and then immediately afterwards, Billy's trial begins. Those who condemn Vere say that this juxtaposition undermines his credibility and makes the trial a farce. They go along with the surgeon, a man of science, who judges strictly by outward physical appearances. The surgeon notes that Vere has never been in such a worked-up state before. He thinks that calling a drumhead court is a bad mistake and maybe a further sign of insanity. Why not wait until they rejoin the fleet and let the admiral handle the case? The other officers he speaks with agree: No one wants the responsibility of deciding Billy's fate. But Vere is the captain: To resist him would be mutiny, to argue with him insolence, and to prove him insane impossible. You can see what a quandary they're all in, and why they decide to comply. The narrator refuses to take a stand on the issue of Vere's sanity. "Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins?" he asks. Who can judge the fine shadings between the sane and the insane? For that matter, who can fix the exact right and wrong in a case as delicate and complex as Billy's? He leaves us to judge for ourselves. But before the trial begins, he does answer some of the questions raised by Vere's actions. The effect of this is to show us that the surgeon's point of view is not the only one to consider. Ultimately, you have to settle the matter according to your own sense of justice. BILLY BUDD'S TRIAL Billy is tried by a drumhead court made up of four officers: Vere, the captain of the marines, the first lieutenant, and the sailing master. Vere you already know. The important thing about the other three is that they're good, honest, reliable officers, but they lack the kind of moral insight needed to comprehend all the complexities of this case. Despite some question as to his sanity, Vere appears to be the only member of the court capable of grappling with the issues. He offers the only arguments, and he convinces the others to go along with what he thinks. Despite the fact that there are four members of the court, Vere is really Billy's sole judge. The trial takes place in the same setting as the crime--the captain's cabin. Billy is brought out of the stateroom, and the proceedings begin. Since Vere was the only witness, he's the one who describes what happened. If you think it's irregular for a judge to be the sole witness, you're right. But this is a hasty court, and some rules are stretched or broken. When Vere finished narrating everything that happened between Billy and Claggart, the first lieutenant asks Billy if it's true. Billy says simply that the captain has told the truth about the killing, but that Claggart lied about his disloyalty: "I have eaten the King's bread and I am true to the King." Remember how Vere described Billy as a "King's bargain"? The King almost seems to be a presence in the story, perhaps a symbolic one. God is often referred to as the King of Kings, and Billy's phrase "the King's bread" calls to mind the host at communion. The importance, and perhaps the religious significance, of Billy's statement is heightened when Vere, the "king" of the ship, says in an emotional tone that he believes Billy, and Billy stammers back, "God will bless you for that, your honor!" Do you see how an emotional bond is being forged between Billy and Vere? Though they're on opposite sides of the law, they seem to be on the same wave-length. Now, in simple language, Billy explains why he struck Claggart: He never had anything against him and only hit him because he couldn't defend himself with words. After Billy's inability to speak in the previous scene, don't you find his language here very moving? He's baffled about what's happened to him, but he's brave and steady, and he tells the truth. Almost. Billy does tell one small lie when he's asked if he knew about or suspected any trouble on board. There was the chubby sailor who offered him money to join a mutiny, but Billy still feels that he can't inform against a fellow sailor, even though he has very little left to lose. You can either see this lie as a small blot on Billy's purity or else as a further confirmation of his natural sense of honor. No one likes a stool pigeon, but Billy is, in fact, being a dupe, since the mutineer was one of Claggart's henchmen. The last question asked of Billy is why Claggart was out to get him since there was no bad blood between them. Billy doesn't know how to answer this, and he turns to Vere for help. But Vere insists the business of the court is with "the blow's consequence," not with the mystery of Claggart's iniquity. "The prisoner's deed," he declares, "with that alone we have to do." Does this strike you as fair? What Vere is saying is forget about intention, forget about circumstance, forget about Claggart's lies, and Billy's stammer, and just look at the result: One man has killed another. The other members of the court have trouble swallowing this line, and so does Vere, as he later paces to and fro thinking things over. His pacing up the incline of the deck, the narrator says, symbolizes the mind's determination to go against "primitive instincts strong as the wind and the sea." In other words, in his gut he wants to pardon Billy, but he sets his mind against his gut feeling, grits his teeth, and decides that he's got to follow, not instinct but law. Billy is taken out, and Vere stands before the court and presents his argument. Vere starts off by telling the court members to put aside their human feelings. He admits that he, too, feels sorry for Billy, but he insists that compassion and private conscience must be ignored for the obligations of martial law. Then he extends this argument by contrasting Natural Law with the King's law. Under Natural Law, Vere states, Billy is "a creature innocent before God." (Natural Law, as he uses it, thus combines basic human feelings with the morality of Christianity.) At the Last Judgment, Billy will be acquitted, even as Claggart will be sent to hell. But this is a drumhead court, not the Last Judgment, and the King's law, not Natural Law, applies. Once you join the navy, you cease to be a "natural free agent." You don't have responsibility for what's right and wrong--you are simply supposed to carry out the rules of martial law. All of these arguments are intensified, Vere insists, because it's war time and the Mutiny Act is in effect. "War," he says, "looks but to the frontage, the appearance"--it doesn't care about Billy's intention or what was going on inside his mind. War sees things in utter black and white: Either condemn Billy or let him go. Do you see how the theme of appearances versus reality keeps coming up in Billy Budd? Claggart tried to manipulate appearances to make Billy look "deep" and deceptive. And though Vere saw through this scheme, he now says that the underlying reality must be rejected for the appearance. Here the sailing master speaks up and asks why they can't convict Billy, but then pardon him. That way, they'll obey the law, keep up appearances, and also do the right thing. Vere argues that this cannot be, because once the crew got wind of it, they'd decide the officers were scared of them, and they'd mutiny. In order to maintain discipline on board, therefore, there's no choice but to condemn this "unfortunate boy." Vere then withdraws and, after mulling it over briefly, the other members of the court decide to go along with him: Billy must be hanged from the yardarm first thing in the morning! The narrator notes that they might have spared Billy, but for Vere's last argument--that letting him off would be bad for the crew's discipline. Everyone is still so tense about the possibility of a mutiny that this line of reasoning convinces the court that clemency is out of the question. Everyone who reads Billy Budd comes away with a different reaction to this scene. Some people get furious at Captain Vere and say he totally perverted justice. Others heave a sigh for poor Billy, but concede that Vere made the right decision. However you feel about it, you have to admit he was in a tough spot. Imagine if you were the captain--how would you decide? You've got to make up your mind about Vere--either you're for him or against him. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 22 Even those who side against Vere admit that he suffers for the decision that he convinced the court to make. And in this chapter you see just how much. Vere takes on himself the responsibility of telling Billy that he's been sentenced to death. But the narrator doesn't let us witness this meeting. Why not? He calls the encounter a "sacrament" between two men, who have such rare qualities that "to average minds" they would seem "incredible." Is he saying that we're too stupid to understand or believe this scene? Maybe the point is that by excluding us from this meeting, the narrator heightens the spiritual aspect implied in "sacrament" and makes the emotion between Billy and Vere that much stronger. The narrator guesses that Vere confessed to Billy that he was the one who insisted on the death penalty. And that Billy, far from being angry, felt "a sort of joy" that Vere has such a "brave opinion of him," that he knows Billy does not fear death. Then the narrator imagines that a kind of fatherly emotion welled up inside Vere, that a "primeval" passion of sympathy and love and pity got the better of his military stoicism, and he embraced the young sailor, whom he had just condemned to death. Remember how, in the previous scene, before he comes to his decision, Vere paces the deck and gets control of his "primitive instincts." Here just the opposite happens: The instincts come rushing out. Their embrace is like a father and son, and it cements the bond between them. The narrator makes us feel the aura of hushed sanctity and religious ritual all the more through his tone, images, and Biblical references. NOTE: THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC Vere and Billy's embrace is compared to the embrace of Abraham and Isaac at the moment before Isaac's sacrifice. Do you remember this Bible story? God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a test of his faith and obedience. Though he doesn't want to, Abraham agrees. But at the very last moment, an angel comes down and says, "Lay not thine hand upon the lad... for now I know that thou fearest God." God sends a ram to be sacrificed instead, and Abraham gives joyful thanks. Even though Billy is not as lucky as Isaac, some readers take this allusion as a symbol of Vere's absolution of the guilt of killing Billy. It not only underlines Vere's role as Billy's spiritual father, but emphasizes how his decision to condemn Billy was part of God's law. Those who read Billy Budd as a tale of acceptance and forgiveness stress the significance of this scene. They point out that the narrator links Billy and Vere as "two of great Nature's nobler order, " whose embrace signals reconciliation. There is a quality of "diviner magnanimity" in this meeting that brings out the most godlike aspect of each man. By embracing Vere, Billy's "novice magnanimity" is fulfilled and raised to a higher level. Though, in the ruling of naval law, they are divided as judge and convicted criminal, on the level of ultimate truth, their spirits are joined. As Vere emerges from this encounter, his face looks so tortured that the narrator concludes that he is suffering even more than Billy, who is about to die. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 23 The ship's crew is beginning to wonder what's happened to Billy and Claggart. A rumor goes around that they were seen entering the captain's cabin and haven't been seen since. Vere puts their questions to rest by making a public announcement of everything that took place in his cabin. It's a vivid scene with the men standing around the captain while the newly risen moon shines down on them. They listen without speaking, like a congregation "of believers in hell" listening to their Calvinist preacher (Calvinism, a religious doctrine prevalent in early New England, stressed predestination of the soul.) This image brings to mind the issue of original sin, and the notion that Billy was somehow predetermined to slip up. But when Vere is through, the men begin to murmur restlessly. Are they about to rise up in protest--or even in mutiny? Before they can do anything, a whistle sounds, and they all have to get to work. The routine takes over and cuts off any chance of rebellion. Meanwhile, the narrator informs us that "at a suitable hour" Claggart was buried at sea with "every funeral honor," proper to his rank. The sly master of appearances went out with the appearance of complete respectability and reproachlessness. But isn't it strange how you've practically forgotten about Claggart now that he's dead? It's as if all his evil evaporated with him. The only ones you're concerned about now are Billy and Vere. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 24 Billy has been moved from the captain's cabin to an impromptu prison on the upper gun deck, which is lined with the ship's cannon and sheltered above by the weather deck. Billy, the peacemaker, dressed in his dirty white uniform, lies in chains between two huge black cannons, instruments of war. You get a vivid sense of colors and fighting in this scene. The narrator goes even further with this idea when he shows us the meeting of Billy with the ship's chaplain. The chaplain tries to "bring Billy Budd to some godly understanding that he must die" and "to bring home to him the thought of salvation and a Savior," but his efforts are in vain. Billy, the narrator repeats, is a barbarian, and like the South Sea inhabitants of Tahiti, he listens politely to the Christian words but they don't sink in. (You'll see how central this idea is to the theme of Typee.) Billy and the islanders have no fear of death, while the God-fearing, "civilized" Christians are terrified of it, despite the fact that their religion offers eternal life. Billy's feeling is, Why should I be scared? It's all part of nature, and since it's part of nature I might as well accept it. His essential innocence and goodness of heart goes beyond any Christian doctrine the chaplain can teach him, and eventually the chaplain agrees. "Innocence," he concludes, "was even a better thing than religion wherewith to go to Judgment." But before he leaves, the chaplain bends down and kisses Billy on the cheek. The narrator calls this "an act strange enough in an Englishman," and you'll probably agree. Does it remind you of how Judas kissed Christ to betray him? Or do you think it shows that Billy's goodness is so strong that it converts the clergyman who came to convert him? Yet if the chaplain is converted by Billy's special virtue, why doesn't he do anything to try to get him off the hook? The reason is: He knows it would be futile. Though he is the "minister of the Prince of Peace" he serves Mars, the God of War. In fact, his presence on board implies that Christianity, while claiming to be the "religion of the meek," actually supports the religion of brute force that is war. The narrator bitterly points up the contradiction in this and reduces the chaplain to a kind of cog in the war machine. The true values of Christ are not to be found in him, but in Billy Budd, as you'll see so clearly in the next chapter. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 25 Melville handles the scene of Billy's death so visually that you can almost watch it like a movie, with the camera directing your attention to all the crucial details. It's four o'clock in the morning, and the camera pans over the ship and the distant horizon, where a white cloud hangs on the sea. Suddenly you hear eight bells strike, whistles blowing, and all the decks of the ship fill with the crew. Even the platform of the foretop is packed with Billy's shipmates. Now the camera zooms in on Captain Vere, standing in the midst of all his officers at the back of the ship and facing forward. His face is grim in a close-up as he gazes up at a pole sticking out from the main mast: the yard from which Billy must hang. The camera then follows Billy as he talks briefly with the chaplain. We can't hear what they say, but we see that the chaplain's face shows deep sympathy, and Billy looks completely at peace. The camera zooms in on Billy alone as he is brought up the mast. You see his face in a close-up as he stands alone with the noose around his neck. He is looking toward the back of the ship, where his captain stands, and in the hush he calls out in a sweet, singing voice: "God bless Captain Vere!" The camera cuts away and pans over the ship's crew as a kind of electric shock jolts through them, and they all call out with one voice: "God bless Captain Vere!" Suddenly the camera cuts away to the captain: He is erect, rigid, and expressionless. But not entirely motionless, for he gives a faint nod of his head. The camera cuts back to Billy, rising up at the end of the rope. At that very moment, the sun breaks through the cloud and rose-colored rays stream onto Billy's lifeless face. This image stays on the screen for a long time, then the camera cuts away to the "wedged mass of upturned faces" of the crew, all staring in silent, wide-eyed awe at Billy. Then it cuts back to the dead man. Though he died by hanging, Billy's body does not twitch with the spasms that involuntarily convulse the muscles of people who die in this way. He hangs there practically motionless, only swinging slightly with the slow roll of the massive warship. This is the movie version of Billy's death, an emotional and gripping scene. The book version has all this emotion and more, because the highly figurative language it's written in suggests a symbolic interpretation that might not come out in the visual action alone. The most obvious and important significance of this figurative language is the Christ symbolism, which culminates in this scene. When, at the moment of his death, Billy ascends and the sun breaks through the white cloud "with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision," you just have to think of Christ. The fact that Billy doesn't twitch is seen by the crew as a miracle. It's interesting that nowhere in this scene does the narrator say: Billy was dead. Instead of hanging off the yardarm, he ascends, like a bird or an angel. This delicate and symbolic handling heightens the mystery of Billy's death. You feel that Billy is more than just a human victim: Like Christ at the crucifixion, he's transfigured with divinity. And his blessing of Vere only makes this more vivid. But Billy Budd, as you've seen, is a very complex work, and even its most basic symbols are qualified to bring out many different meanings. The narrator terms Billy's final blessing a "conventional felon's benediction," which means that this is the usual thing for convicted criminals to say under these circumstances. And, though the sailors repeat the blessing, they're not thinking about Vere at all, but only of Billy. They say the words automatically, almost like zombies, because they're so caught up in the tension and emotion of Billy's death. If you look at it this way, it considerably reduces the impact of the blessing. Some readers point to the manner in which Vere stands still and silent while Billy ascends as a sign that the captain is really the one who dies symbolically (or spiritually) in this scene. The narrator refuses to tell you what's going on inside Vere's mind here, but lets you choose from two possibilities: Either he's stoically controlling his emotions, or his emotions have so much gotten control of him that he's gone into shock. The basic question about Vere remains unanswered. What does the Christ symbolism do for you in this scene? Christ, as you know, died for mankind's sins, but did Billy? Maybe his death is a kind of redemption of the tragedy of his life, and his blessing of Vere, the signal that man's imperfect laws and judgments are forgiven. But maybe his death is the tragedy: The tragedy of a cold, intellectual man forcing death on an innocent sailor out of fear and narrow-mindedness. Your feeling about this scene not only says a lot about Billy Budd, but a lot about you. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 26 After the religious sublimity and tension of Billy's death, this chapter plunges you into a realm of scientific speculation that seems almost absurd in contrast. No one can understand the seeming miracle of Billy's motionlessness at death, and the ship's purser and surgeon try to explain the lack of spasms in different ways. The purser says it's a testimony to "the force lodged in will power," but the surgeon rejects this as unscientific. Though he admits he can't account for the "phenomenon," he insists that the explanation will be found only in science. He reflects the views of materialism, a philosophy that explains every apparent mystery by searching for a physical cause. Melville is obviously poking fun not only at this philosophy, but also at the pomposity and hollow self-assurance of the surgeon. It makes you think that maybe his evaluation of Vere's sanity in Chapter 20 was also somewhat foolish. The purser, equally unable to explain this mystery, seems content to apply a fancy term to it, as if a special name is all the explanation he needs. After trying "will power," he turns to "euthanasia," a Greek word that means a painless death. He implies that Billy died before he was hanged, but he fails to probe the deeper meaning of his supposition. Though this chapter certainly deflates the mood of Billy's death scene, it also serves to intensify the mystery of his death. Neither of these typical 19th-century men can offer any clue to the mystery of Billy's last moments that doesn't seem laughable. The materialism of the surgeon and the purser's high-sounding labels make Captain Vere stand out not only for his well-rounded intelligence, but for his respect for the spiritual side of human feelings. The story of Billy Budd clearly has more in it than either of these two limited men can comprehend. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 27 Though the ship's crew echoed Billy's benediction right before his death, we now find out that immediately after his death a different kind of sound came from them--an inarticulate murmur that threatened to swell into a shout of rebellion. But before this could happen, Vere ordered the boatswain to blow his whistle and send the men back to work. The exact same thing happens a little while later when the crew is gathered once more to watch Billy's body pushed off a plank into the sea. But this time, the human murmur blends with the shrieks of sea birds that fly screaming to the spot where Billy's corpse went under. The superstitious men interpret this as a wondrous sign. The narrator suggests that the birds are merely hunting for food. Again, you are left to choose between the explanations of science and the supernatural. This is the third time the crew has been gathered in connection with Billy's demise (the first time was when the captain first broke the news of the tragedy). Each time they murmur their disapproval, and each time, as soon as the murmur threatens to swell into a shout of protest, they are quickly sent to work. In some ways, they're being treated like animals: You ring a bell, and the instinct to jump or eat or whatever takes over. In their case, it's the instinct to go about their routine work. Vere's comment on this is, "With mankind, forms, measured forms are everything." What he means is that custom and habit entirely govern our behavior and keep us under control. Measured forms may also apply to law, religion, and artistic forms such as poetry and music that translate emotion into carefully designed works of art. So, to add to all the contrasting ideas in Billy Budd, we have a new one: measured forms versus ungoverned passion. Vere brings out this idea even more clearly when he refers to the story of Orpheus and his lyre. NOTE: THE MYTH OF ORPHEUS The myth of Orpheus tells of a legendary Greek musician who played the lyre so beautifully that his music put a kind of spell on the wild animals and even the rocks and streams of the woods. His music tamed and pacified everything wild. Vere compares the "measured forms" of naval routine and their effect on rebellious sailors to Orpheus's beautiful music and its effect on wild animals and things. But Vere fails to mention that Orpheus met his end at the hands of the Maenads, wild and violent female followers of Bacchus, the god of wine, who, impervious to the spell of his music, tore him limb from limb. Can there be a clearer example of unbridled passion overwhelming a "measured form"? Vere has unwittingly chosen a particularly ambiguous myth to illustrate his point. He also applies this myth to "the disruption of forms" going on in France during the revolution. As we'll soon see, this disruption is to have fatal consequences for the captain himself. Critics of Vere point out that he tries too hard to separate feeling from law and passion from forms. What he fails to understand about the myth of Orpheus, he also fails to understand about his own crew and his own historical period. Passion is as deeply ingrained in human nature as the need for forms. Without forms, the Maenads would sweep everything into chaos; but without passion, we are little better than robots--or slaves to a rigid and all-powerful state. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTER 28 Billy Budd is dead and his story told, but there remain a few ragged edges and loose ends that the narrator wants to dispose of. One of these is the fate of Captain Vere. Vere met his end during a fight between the Bellipotent and a French ship called the Athee--the "Atheist"--once again, a ship with a significant name. The Atheist suggests the disruption of forms, specifically religious forms, in revolutionary France that Vere just mentioned. Before he describes Vere's death, the narrator takes a minute to comment on the "form" of the story he's telling. Since this word form is so fresh in your mind from what Vere has said about measured forms, you might want to stop and think about it. NOTE: A COMMENT ON THE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE The narrator apologizes that his story will not have the "symmetry of form" of "pure fiction"--but it can't be helped because it deals with "fact," and "truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges." Your first reaction might be that the narrator is lying: Billy Budd is not fact, but fiction, not truth but a story. So why put in this disclaimer? But maybe the narrator is talking about "truth" and "fact" in a deeper sense. Many people feel that a work of fiction captures the way they feel about the world more effectively than a history book. So maybe the narrator has put this in to make you look for the deeper meanings in Billy Budd and also to make you look at the book's structure and form. Do you feel that its lack of "symmetry of form"--its many digressions, its long character analyses followed by exciting and violent scenes, its tense trial and the cinematic hanging of Billy gives the book the flexibility to convey the "real" feeling of events? Its loose and shifting structure is certainly one of the reasons Billy Budd had been open to so many different interpretations. Captain Vere is hit by a musket ball fired from a porthole of the Athee during a heated battle. Though the Bellipotent succeeds in capturing the enemy ship, Vere's wound is fatal. He dies several days later on land, at the English-controlled port of Gibraltar. He never got to participate in Nelson's glorious victories at the Nile and Trafalgar, and he never became famous. Right before he dies, Vere is lying under the influence of a "magical drug," and he's heard to say the words "Billy Budd, Billy Budd." The narrator comments that he did not say these words in "the accents of remorse. " Vere's death raises several important questions. Does his death from a bullet shot from the "Atheist" mean that the powers of godlessness and lawlessness have succeeded in toppling law and "measured forms"? Claggart's evil destroyed Billy's innocence, and now French chaos has brought down Vere and his civilized order. Is this the final meaning, and final tragedy of Billy Budd? Or do you feel that Vere got what he deserved for ignoring his natural feelings when he condemned Billy to death? Is the narrator being ironic when he says Vere murmured Billy's name without remorse at the end of his life? Or does it show his deep love for Billy and strengthen the father- son tie between them? Yet why would he mention Billy at all, if he didn't regret his role in causing Billy to die? Also remember that Vere, like Billy, was struck down by war: Vere by its ungoverned violence, Billy by its over-controlled, unyielding laws. Neither Billy's innocence nor Vere's lawfulness can survive in a world of mechanical codes and escalating warfare. BILLY BUDD: CHAPTERS 29 AND 30 Melville ends Billy Budd with two different forms of narrative, one a newspaper account and the other a poem. Both of these show how the story that he has told can be changed radically depending on the form that's used to tell it. Truth, therefore, is relative and always shifting: It depends so much on context and point of view. This theme brings Billy Budd up to date with the most modern novels. The newspaper story makes a total mockery of everything you've just read. In it, Billy is an assassin of "extreme depravity" (the very word used to characterize Claggart!) and Claggart is a dutiful, patriotic officer, whom Billy vindictively stabs with a knife. Luckily, Billy gets quickly executed, and everything returns to normal on board the Bellipotent. So much for the truthfulness or usefulness of newspapers! The poem about Billy was supposedly written by one of his fellow foretopmen and printed as a ballad. It's a gentle and simple poem, and the narrator associates it with the folklore about Billy that grew up among the sailors after his death. In this folklore, the spar (stout pole) from which Billy was hanged becomes a sacred object, like the cross on which Christ was crucified. So Billy lives on as a sort of Christ figure in a simple folk religion of sailors. The poem, unlike the newspaper story, does not depart in facts from the story we've just read. Its mood and tone, however, are much quieter, simpler, dreamier, and more folksy than the narrative. The sailor who wrote it gave it the title "Billy in the Darbies" (darbies is British slang for handcuffs), and he has Billy himself narrate his thoughts and feelings on the night before his hanging. He's not scared of dying, but he thinks with sad resignation of how lonely it will be. "But aren't it all sham?" Billy sighs to himself in the poem, offering yet another way of interpreting the issues in the book. Half dreaming, he imagines how he'll shake hands with his chum Donald before they push him off the plank into the sea, but then he remembers that he'll be dead by then. At the very end, he thinks, "I am sleepy and the oozy weeds about me twist"--he's already dreaming of being at the bottom of the ocean. The poem is the very last thing in Billy Budd, and, with its rocking, slow rhythms, you can easily imagine some sailor singing it as his ship rolls with the waves. Billy's story, so full of deep moral questions, ends with almost a lullaby. A common sailor, once Billy's companion, has the last word, and this rude, simple ballad is the book's last "form." It makes you think that beyond the issues that rage through Billy Budd, what endures is the simple humanity of the Handsome Sailor. TYPEE: THE PLOT Sick and tired of the drudgery on board the whaling ship Dolly, Tommo, the narrator and hero of Typee, jumps ship with his friend, Toby, and escapes into the mountains of Nukahiva, one of the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. They hope to live with friendly islanders, have some adventures, and then--who knows? Just so long as they don't fall in with the reputedly ferocious and cannibalistic Typees, they're sure everything will work out. But fall into the hands of the Typees is exactly what happens! Tommo quickly begins to change his opinion of the Typees when he sees how kind they can be, and how beautiful they are physically; but he wonders how they earned their fearful reputation, and can't help worrying that maybe the Typees are merely acting friendly to trick him and his friend. His worries turn to depression and despair when Toby makes his escape and fails to return with help as he promised to do. Everything is made worse for Tommo by a mysterious leg injury that plagues him on and off throughout his stay with the Typees and rules out the possibility of an overland escape. Tommo is a prisoner of the tribe, and there's nothing he can do about it. Suddenly Tommo's spirits lift, and he gives himself up to the enjoyment of all the many pleasures to be had in Typee valley. He's in love with an exquisitely beautiful girl named Fayaway, and he spends many happy hours with her and with his native "valet" Kory- Kory, boating, swimming, and lounging around. Not a bad life at all! Tommo compares Typee society with Western society, and finds that it has much to recommend it. The Typees are happier, healthier, more attractive physically, don't need law or money, seldom fight, and never work. This truly is a tropical paradise, a South Sea Eden--but like the biblical Eden, it too has its serpent, in the form of Tommo's nagging fears about the Typees' violence and cannibalism. His fears erupt into nightmare when the Typees fight a battle with the neighboring tribe, and then Tommo finds the remains of a corpse they've just eaten. Now he's got to escape from here no matter what! At the exciting climax of Typee, Tommo gets word that a ship has come to the bay to rescue him, and he breaks away from the islanders, bids a tearful farewell to Fayaway, and jumps aboard. A group of warriors swim after the rescue boat, and Tommo, to his horror, must stab the chief Mow-mow to prevent him from getting on the boat and slaughtering the rescue party. But he's desperate to escape from Typee at any cost--and he succeeds. TYPEE: TOMMO The hero and narrator of Typee is a youthful, adventuresome sailor from a good family background, who signed onto a whaling ship so he could see the world. In many ways, Tommo's background and personality match up with Melville's own--though Tommo distorts some of the facts about Melville's actual stay on the island of Nukahiva. Tommo is open to new experiences, willing to change his mind about the Typees, has a good sense of humor, but is also prey to his moods, which greatly influence his perceptions. Like Melville, he strongly opposes the role of the missionaries in the South Seas. While he's daring and eager for adventure, you may feel Tommo is also rather passive in his inability or unwillingness to escape until the very end, when he suddenly bursts into action. Some readers feel Tommo has no real personality and is merely a device for telling the story. Others attack him for being a lazy sensualist, who can't make up his mind between civilization and the "state of nature." Most agree that Tommo is a romantic at heart, a seeker after truth through new experiences. TYPEE: TOBY Tommo's friend and companion in adventure is a brave and scrappy young man with a certain mystery surrounding his background and origins. Tommo says he's the type of sailor who goes "rambling over the world as if pursued by some mysterious fate." A bit aloof from the other sailors on board the Dolly, Toby seldom laughs and possesses a hot temper, which hints at the fires burning deep inside him. Toby shows kindness to Tommo when his leg acts up, and can always crack a joke to break the tension of their most terrifying or depressing moments. Toby's practical-minded cynicism offers a good contrast to Tommo's romantic dreaminess. TYPEE: FAYAWAY Tommo's Typee love is beautiful and gentle, with natural refinement and grace. Though Tommo dwells at some length on her looks--her exquisite olive skin, stunning blue eyes, rich brown hair, and shapely body--he does little to draw out her character. But you end up feeling that her simplicity, beauty, and innocence are her character. Whenever she appears, the mood of Typee becomes sunny and relaxed. Fayaway is a child of nature, always kind and sympathetic to Tommo, always perfect in her unstudied grace. She represents the beauty and goodness of the Typees at its most pure and seductive. TYPEE: KORY-KORY Because of Tommo's leg injury, Kory-Kory is assigned to him as a kind of valet, bodyguard, and male nurse. Though he describes Kory- Kory as rather grotesque in his tattooing and hairstyle, Tommo appreciates the young man's patience, unfailing good nature, and civility. Kory-Kory, like Fayaway, is an innocent, but occasionally Tommo pokes gentle fun at his simple-mindedness. TYPEE: MARNOO Tommo describes the heroically handsome Marnoo as a "Polynesian Apollo," and some readers see him as an early sketch for Billy Budd. Marnoo comes from one of the valleys neighboring Typee, but he's allowed to travel freely from one tribe to another because he's taboo--off limits. Marnoo has spent time traveling off the island and mixing with white men. He speaks some English, and he proves to be invaluable in bringing about Tommo's escape. Tommo tells us more about what Marnoo looks like than about who or what he is--the same approach he used with Fayaway. But, perhaps, the point is that Marnoo's good looks symbolize the glory and superiority of these "noble savages." TYPEE: MEHEVI Perhaps the most powerful chief in Typee, Mehevi is described as one of "Nature's noblemen." Tommo goes out of his way to win favor with this dignified, regal, and rather stern man. He is the total leader: kindly in peace, fierce but crafty in war, a grave judge, and a generous host. Tommo clearly thinks Mehevi would stack up well against any president or European king. And yet you always feel that Tommo is just a little afraid of Mehevi. TYPEE: SETTING All the action of Typee takes place on or near the South Sea island of Nukahiva, (or Nuku Hiva), one of the Marquesas Islands south and east of Hawaii. From your first glimpse of the beautiful Nukahiva Bay, with mountains rising behind it, to the final scene of Mow-mow and the fierce Typee warriors swimming after Tommo's rescue boat, the island scenery and people are always vividly before your eyes. Melville brings out the tropical paradise of Typee valley by painting beautiful pictures of hidden lakes, murmurous palm groves, and sandy ocean beaches. But this Eden also has its darker side in the mysterious Taboo Groves, shady religious precincts where Tommo suspects that cannibalism and orgiastic rites are practiced. In many ways, the setting of Typee is central to its themes; you can enjoy the pictures Melville scatters through the book, but you have also to pay attention to how he uses his setting to bring out symbols and moral issues. Be sure to notice how your view of the setting changes depending on Tommo's moods. When he's happy, Typee seems like paradise. When he's miserable, it's a horrid prison. TYPEE: THEMES 1. THE "NOBLE SAVAGE" You don't have to dig deep for the themes of Typee. Melville states one of the most important themes quite clearly in Chapter 17 when he contrasts the happiness, health and beauty of the Typees with the "ferocious" white men whose civilization has only brought them disease, depravity, and violent war. Melville is here echoing the romantic notion of the "noble savage," which holds that man descends from bliss in a state of nature to misery in civilization. 2. THE FALL FROM INNOCENCE From the many comparisons of Typee valley with the Garden of Eden, you can see another important theme of the book--the Fall from Innocence. This theme is an important link between Typee and Billy Budd. In Typee, the role of the devil is played either by missionaries or by the innate violence of the natives, depending on how you interpret the book. 3. ATTACK ON THE MISSIONARIES The anti-missionary theme comes across forcefully throughout the book. Melville blames the missionaries for bringing all the ills of civilization to the South Seas and none of the benefits. But what's interesting is that during the narrative of Typee, no missionaries have yet penetrated this valley, and yet evil is present in the form of violence, cannibalism and dark mysterious rites. Neither the natives nor the missionaries have a monopoly on good or evil: All are humans, and all humans are deeply divided. 4. THE CHARACTER OF TOMMO Other themes of the book focus on Tommo himself and his plight. One critic stated that Typee is about castration and cannibalism; that Tommo's mysterious leg injury symbolizes powerlessness and fear of succumbing to the cannibals. Other readers point to the importance of Tommo's mood swings in determining his impressions of the people and scenery around him. Typee, in this view, is really about Tommo's way of interpreting his experience. He's a romantic and his story becomes a romantic quest for truth and adventure. Though Tommo is entranced by his tropical Eden, he ultimately needs to return to civilization. This yearning for "home and mother" becomes another important theme in the book. TYPEE: STYLE The style of Typee reflects the personality of Tommo, its narrator. Youthful and vivacious, Tommo plunges rapidly from adventure to moral reflection, to vivid scene painting, to diatribe, with hardly a pause to shift gears. Tommo's main desire is for experience, and the style of Typee reflects this constant craving in its light- hearted, hurrying manner. One critic spoke of its "hearty and full- blooded exuberance" as something completely new in American literature at the time. Despite his gloomy moods, you can tell that Tommo takes great pleasure in being alive; and though he often doesn't stop to digest what he's seen, he relishes the act of seeing, and seeing so many wonderful things. Humor and irony flash through the descriptions and enliven them. Tommo's language is always simple and fresh, and you see the pictures he creates as vividly as you feel his anger against the missionaries or his love for Fayaway. The style of Typee has a quality of youthful spontaneity about it that makes the book a pleasure to read. TYPEE: POINT OF VIEW One of the most interesting things in Typee is Tommo's point of view. He blames civilization for destroying the noble savages of the South Seas, yet he wants to return to home and mother in the civilized land where the destroyers come from; he praises the simplicity, beauty, and goodness of the Typees, yet he's always scared that they're about to eat him. Where does he stand? Whose side is he on? One critic described Tommo as a "gentleman-beachcomber" who holds himself slightly apart from all groups. His social status separates him from the crew of the Dolly, his refusal to "go native" elevates him above a mere beachcomber; his hatred of the missionaries gives him a special sympathy with the natives, yet he won't allow himself to be tattooed, and thus branded as one of them. In Chapter 4, Tommo stands in a shady grove, eating bananas and comparing a naked Polynesian chief with a French admiral decked out in all the finery and trappings of his rank. This position, standing slightly apart while he muses on the state of nature and civilization, is typical of Tommo's point of view throughout the book. Tommo makes no commitment to any group. He's the romantic outsider motivated by curiosity and a thirst for new experience. This perspective allows Tommo to enter imaginatively into the lives and customs of the natives, but it also keeps him from drawing serious conclusions, at times. Even when he fears that he's on the verge of death, he just won't give up his gentlemanly poise. TYPEE: FORM AND STRUCTURE Typee combines the form of an old-fashioned travel narrative with the excitement of a romance or gothic novel. It claims to be the "unvarnished truth," and very often it reads like a work of nonfiction--describing customs, wildlife, scenery, and historical events without much concern for plot or character development. At other times you feel a strong element of suspense giving form to the book, and you see how episodes, such as the escape over the mountains, the entry into Typee valley, and Tommo's daring getaway are constructed for their full dramatic impact. One critic, points out that Melville blended fact, invention, and information he gathered from reading in such a way that Typee seems even more true than reality. Even when the plot drops from sight, and you're reading long descriptions, you always feel you're in a heightened world where everything has a certain magic. Many readers feel that though the structure of Typee, like Billy Budd, is not symmetrical, its pieces do add up to a coherent whole. In other words, Typee works as a novel because of the imaginative force that Melville exerts throughout. On the other hand, some wonder if the book is fish or fowl--novel or travelogue, adventure story or essay on the meaning of civilization and human nature. Others conclude that Melville has created his own unique form in Typee, and that fact and fiction are blended so well that you don't have to worry about the book's exact category. In some ways, this hybrid form points ahead to such contemporary mixing of truth and imagination as In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, and The Executioner's Song, by Norman Mailer. TYPEE: THE STORY Have you ever felt like running away from everything tedious and routine by escaping into a world of adventure, fantasy, danger, and delight? Herman Melville actually did this, and he tells the story of his adventures in Typee. Maybe you've never actually experienced an exotic exploit like this, but you've probably made some impulsive, split-second decisions--to stay out all night, crash a party, pull a practical joke--only to find yourself in more hot water than you bargained for. This is exactly what happens when Tommo, Melville's narrator, and his friend Toby run away from their whaling ship the Dolly and hide out on the island of Nukahiva. They were looking for adventure, and relief from the grueling drudgery of shipboard life-- and they find themselves in the midst of Typee inhabitants, about whom they've heard the most ferocious and terrifying stories. Are the Typees really cannibalistic savages--or is their valley in fact a South Sea Garden of Eden? Are the missionaries, who claim to be civilizing the natives, really bringing corruption and depravity to the islands? What does the primitive life of the Typees say about us and our notion of civilization? These are the questions that Typee makes you think about while it's also telling an exciting and suspenseful story. TYPEE: PREFACE AND CHAPTERS 1 TO 5 After insisting in his preface that everything in the book is the "unvarnished truth," Melville lets his narrator (whose name we know only as Tommo, the nickname the Typees later give him) take over and tell the story in the first person. Though for many years readers believed Melville and thought Typee was true, we now know that much of the book is exaggerated or distorted, and some of it is totally invented. For example, Melville spent only four weeks alone with the Typees, not four months, as the book claims. Typee is a novel that Melville tries to pass off as truth. Why? Perhaps Typee actually captures the truth more vividly than the dry facts alone would have done. Remember that Melville insisted that Billy Budd was not a work of fiction, but that it told the truth "uncompromisingly." Maybe fiction implies "lie" to Melville and symbolizes the deceit of civilization that he finds so destructive. Tommo plunges us into his story by telling how sick he is of being at sea on board the whaling ship Dolly, and how desperately he wants to be on land again. He's thrilled when the Marquesas Islands are sighted, even though the islands, located to the south and east of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, fill him with thoughts of "heathenish rites and human sacrifice." You'll see how his attitude changes as he finds out more about them, and yet how hard it is for him to shake off his initial reaction. We all approach other cultures with certain prejudices that influence our perceptions. At least Tommo has some awareness of this. The boat arrives at the island of Nukahiva, and we learn that the French have just taken possession of it. While the boat is still anchored off-shore, a group of naked island girls swim out to it and climb aboard. A drunken orgy ensues, and Tommo reflects on how the Europeans, who claim to be coming to civilize the islanders, are in fact exposing them to the worst kind of corruption and depravity. This theme is developed with great force throughout Typee. Doesn't it make you think of innocent Billy Budd, so often described as a barbarian, who is destroyed through the lies of the evil but sophisticated Claggart and the harsh laws of naval authority? The trusting innocence of Billy and the natives is no match for the traps of civilization. Tommo has been influenced by the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's idea of the noble savage--man in the state of nature whose intrinsic goodness is buried and corrupted--when civilization takes over. This was a notion adopted by romanticism, the early-19th- century movement that emphasized the importance of individual feeling, the cult of nature, and the spiritual truth behind physical reality. Tommo is a romantic in many other senses as well: He is eager for adventure, open to whatever new experience comes his way, questing for truth and opposed to authority. Some readers feel that Tommo is never really developed into a character, but if you look at his attitudes, beliefs, and point of view, you can learn a lot about what sort of person he is. Partly because he's a romantic who can't resist the lure of adventure, and partly because he's sick of life on the Dolly, Tommo jumps ship. He convinces a spirited, taciturn, and altogether more rational young sailor named Toby to go along with him. Packing a little bit of food but otherwise devising no real plans, the two make their daring escape into the mysterious interior of the island. They don't care what happens to them, so long as they don't get near the fierce tribe known as the Typees, about whom they've been strongly warned. TYPEE: CHAPTERS 6 TO 9 If you've ever made a wild and potentially dangerous decision, such as bushwacking a short-cut through the woods instead of following the regular path, you probably remember the let-down you experienced after the initial rush of excitement had passed. Soon you come to a steep cliff--or worse, you get lost and night closes in. Now your let-down turns to fear and maybe despair. This is exactly the situation Tommo and Toby find themselves in once they wander into the mountains after their daring escape. They sleep out with no shelter, get soaked in a rainstorm, and discover that their food supplies have turned to mush. In addition to everything else, Tommo's leg begins to swell and gives him terrible pain. Their spirits do lift a bit after several days of roughing it when they see a beautiful valley stretching out below. But the question they keep asking is: Who lives there? Happars (a friendly, peaceful tribe) or the dread Typees? Toby decides it's got to be Happars (how often wishful thinking takes over in a moment like this!) and, at great peril of life and limb, and great pain for Tommo, they descend to the valley. These chapters introduce a symbolic overtone when Tommo's leg becomes diseased. The infirmity cripples him for much of the book, but it's never explained and comes and goes mysteriously. Does it symbolize his impotence in this situation, or his fear and disorientation? A few readers interpret it as a symbolic castration. Keep these possible meanings in mind later in the story, when the leg acts up again. Also make note that the valley they sight is described as the "gardens of Paradise," introducing the Eden theme, and that suspense keeps building around their horror of falling into the hands of the Typees. TYPEE: CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 Toby and Tommo finally make it to the beautiful valley, and their arrival causes a great uproar among the inhabitants. Can you picture how they must have felt in this totally strange place with mobs of naked people surrounding them and leading them through the valley? Tommo is particularly disconcerted by one powerful man, who keeps staring him sternly in the face. And then this fierce man demands to know which tribe they favor--Typee or Happar? Tommo's life depends on his answer and some instinct prompts him to say: Typee. He's right! These are the fearsome Typees, and now the two young men are totally in their grasp. But Tommo's actual impressions don't agree at all with his fearful forebodings. Physically, the Typees are a beautiful race, and they seem to be treating Tommo and Toby quite well. The powerful man who stared him in the face is Mehevi, one of the Typee chiefs, and Tommo describes him as one of "Nature's noblemen" for his dignified bearing and aura of command, again bringing out the noble savage theme. Tommo and Toby get assigned to one family, which consists of Marheyo, a gentle old man, Tinor, his kindly and industrious wife, Kory-Kory, their son who becomes Tommo's guide, guard, protector, and valet, and the beautiful Fayaway, with whom Tommo promptly falls in love. He describes Fayaway as a gentle child of nature, with rich olive skin, lovely blue eyes, and thick brown hair. NOTE: In her utter innocence, sweetness, simplicity, inner calm, and happiness, Fayaway is almost like a female version of Billy Budd. And yet despite the kindness and beauty of these people, Tommo still strongly suspects that he and Toby will be cooked and eaten any minute. Are the Typees the treacherous savages they're reputed to be, or are they as good as they seem? NOTE: Questions about the true nature of the Typees become one of the novel's major themes. Another theme is Tommo's willingness to change his mind and judge the Typees on their own terms. How different he is in this regard from other 19th century white men, especially missionaries, who came to the South Seas to impose their notions of religion and culture on the indigenous people. TYPEE: CHAPTERS 14 TO 16 Toby gets away! He's already tried once to flee over the mountains, but a Happar warrior assaulted him before he could make it. However, this time his escape succeeds. It seems that a European ship has sailed near the Typee beach, and the islanders have let Toby go there to make contact with the sailors. He's promised Tommo to come back with medical help for his ailing leg, so that they can then both leave the valley of Typee together. But days pass and Toby does not reappear. (You don't find out what happened to him until the book's sequel.) You won't have any trouble imagining how Tommo feels about Toby's failure to keep his word. Has his pal double-crossed him? Or was he killed and eaten by the cannibalistic natives? Tommo can't get a straight answer out of the Typees, and he sinks into despair. One day there comes a report that boats have been spotted off the bay, and Tommo, crippled as he is, decides to rush down to the shore. But the islanders surround him and won't let him budge. His heart sinks as he realizes that he's being held captive, and it's useless to try to resist. The theme of captivity introduces a new mystery into the book: Why do the Typees want to keep Tommo? We never learn the truth, but it makes you think a lot about the nature of these people. Like Tommo, you keep wondering about their motives, and you experience Tommo's fear even as you succumb to his pleasure in the natives' kindness and innocent charm. The theme of captivity makes you feel how entirely cut off this valley is from the rest of the world. You also learn a lot in these chapters about the customs of the islanders--how they light fires and prepare breadfruit, for example. Anthropologists have confirmed the validity of a great deal of the factual information in Typee, though Melville also changes certain facts; for example, he creates a lake where one does not exist to suit his narrative or symbolic pattern. TYPEE: CHAPTER 17 Suddenly Tommo's leg feels better and his mood and attitude toward the Typees change completely. You can possibly relate to this if you think about how different your outlook on life becomes after you recover from a serious illness. You can appreciate books, music, even nice weather a lot more when you're feeling yourself again. But Tommo's transformation goes deeper than this. Not only does he feel happy to be with the Typees, but his happiness leads him to open up to the positive aspects of their lives. He compares them with Europeans and decides that, all in all, the Typees have it much, much better. This chapter is, thus, central to the whole theme of the noble savage and the joys of barbarity. Tommo admits that life in this "Happy Valley" is less intellectual than the European or American mode of existence, but this is more than compensated for by the pleasures the people enjoy. (You might compare Billy's happy innocence with Claggart's tortured intellectualism here.) He confesses that the Typees are cannibals and allows that this is "a rather bad trait in their character." But then he compares cannibalism with the "fiend-like skill we display in the invention of all manner of death-dealing engines, the vindictiveness with which we carry on our wars" and he concludes that "the white civilized man [is] the most ferocious animal on the face of the earth." NOTE: He's got a point here when you stop and think about our arsenals of atom bombs and agents of chemical warfare, not to mention the normal weapons we've developed for conventional warfare. Aren't our wars and potential for war far worse than anything so- called primitive people have ever done with bows and arrows? Are you shocked at how Tommo dismisses the issue of cannibalism? You can bet that the readers of his day were even more shocked. But Melville wants to show that cannibalism, while bad, can exist alongside many good traits that the Typees possess. He undermines the assumption that cannibalism necessarily means that the Typees are completely brutal and depraved. The point is, we have to stop judging in such simple and sweeping terms, and we have to let ourselves enter into the lives of these people and see what they're about. Tommo, like so many of us, is a creature of moods, and in his refreshed and happy frame of mind, he allows himself a new range of perceptions about the Typees. These perceptions make Chapter 17 exciting to read as well as central to the thematic argument of the book. TYPEE: CHAPTERS 18 TO 24 Now that Tommo is feeling better and more accepting of his situation, he spends a period of tranquility in the valley of the Typees. He describes swimming with Typee girls, boating on a fantasy lake with his beloved Fayaway, watching the dances of the girls, and participating in the festivals celebrated by the people, especially the exciting and grand feast of the Calabashes, in which everyone joins in a big eating and drinking party that Tommo guesses has some religious purpose. These chapters may not be quite so exciting to read as the ones dealing with Tommo and Toby's escape over the mountains and their first days with the Typees, but they do give you some interesting facts about the islanders and paint some lovely pictures of their life. In Chapter 18, Tommo encounters the handsome Marnoo, whom he describes as the Polynesian Apollo (Apollo is the Greek god of poetry, music, and the sun). It turns out that Marnoo speaks English! He's from a different valley, but since he's taboo he's allowed to go from valley to valley without being harmed. What really makes Marnoo special is that he's lived with white men; knows their language and ways; but retains his native dignity. In fact, he's superior in many ways to both whites and Typees. Tommo tries to get Marnoo to help him escape, but when the islanders begin to understand what they're talking about, they become extremely angry. NOTE: Why, you might be wondering, does Tommo want to escape, now that he's discovered what a delightful place Typee valley can be? It's a good question, probably best answered by thinking over your own feelings and reactions. If you've ever traveled to a beautiful spot or a fascinating foreign city, you may go through a time when you feel you never want to return home--back to the same old routine. But if you stay long enough, you begin to miss little things about home. Even though you know it could never be as exotic or beautiful as the place you've traveled to, you determine that you have to get back. This is part of what Tommo experiences. Some readers speculate that Tommo's desire to return reveals Melville's fundamental commitment to his own culture, a force almost like gravity that he could not resist. You should also remember that Tommo is being held captive--yes, his prison is pretty comfortable, but it's still a prison, and his romantic nature yearns for freedom. He never does know what the islanders intend to do with him. Typee valley may be an Eden, but every Eden has its serpent--and the serpent here is the potential violence that Tommo fears the Typees conceal deep inside (or maybe not so deep!). TYPEE: CHAPTERS 25 TO 28 In these chapters, Tommo develops the idea of the Typees as noble savages by describing in greater detail their physical beauty and elaborating on their customs. Tommo was particularly struck by how tall and shapely the Typee men and women are, how smooth their skin is, and how clean and healthy they all seem to be, especially when you compare them with the sorry specimens of most Western men and women. He also tells us how democratic and fair-minded the Typees are, how little they quarrel among themselves, and how they don't need law because they are governed "by an inherent principle of honesty and charity towards each other." This concept is crucial to the notion of the noble savage. Think about Billy Budd and how necessary Captain Vere felt it was to uphold the law and hang a man in order to maintain discipline on board his ship. Who's more savage? Tommo tells us that the Typees do not work, and indeed don't have to work, because everything they need is there for the taking and enjoying. Other visitors to the island actually contradicted this, but Melville describes it this way because it's necessary to complete his picture of the happy, carefree noble savage. Melville may even have invented the literary myth of the tropical paradise, where all you have to do is sit under a palm tree while food falls into your hands, and the sun always shines. But the underside of this is a certain laziness and tendency to sleep a lot that Tommo finds somewhat boring. He needs to have a goal, while the Typees are content to live for the moment. He brings up the story of the Fall of Adam here, so important in the symbolism of Billy Budd. But the Typees are people before the Fall. Tommo again blames the missionaries for forcing the South Sea islanders to work when they don't have to, and for ruining the people, wrecking their culture, and then taking their land. In Tommo's view, the missionaries have forced the biblical Fall of Man to come true in the South Seas, and then they profit from the work the islanders do as a consequence. The islanders listen to the missionaries and even pretend they're Christians, but the religion means nothing to them. They're so innocent, they don't need it, and it just becomes part of the destructive force of Western civilization. "Civilization," Tommo says angrily, "is gradually sweeping from the earth the lingering vestiges of Paganism, and at the same time the shrinking forms of its unhappy worshippers..." It has spread its vices to the people it calls savages, but withheld its blessings. This is the clearest statement of the theme that the men who came to civilize the islanders are actually the ones who turned them into savages. TYPEE: CHAPTERS 29 TO 31 Before he gets to the exciting conclusion of the novel, Tommo pauses in these chapters to give more information on the Typees and the land they live in. He describes wildlife, birds, bugs, the beautiful weather that the island constantly enjoys, and some of the odd customs of the islanders, such as their chanting. One custom that Tommo finds particularly alarming is tattooing. Both male and female Typees have their bodies and faces tattooed, with the result that some of them look like walking drawings. What really upsets Tommo, however, is when the Typee tattoo artist shows an interest in applying his art on Tommo's white skin. Can you see why he's so alarmed? For Tommo it's a symbolic act: It would be like crossing the last barrier separating him from the islanders, equivalent to giving up all hope of ever getting home. Tommo, for all his love and admiration of the Typees, doesn't want to join the indigenous culture to this extent. And of course, if he ever does get back home, he'd have these permanent marks on his face and body that would single him out as a kind of hybrid, part savage, part civilized. It may also symbolize his constant terror of being violated physically by the islanders. TYPEE: CHAPTERS 32 TO 34 Evil erupts into Tommo's idyllic life when he comes upon his beloved foster family examining three human skulls on the floor of their hut. Is it possible that one of the heads belongs to Toby? Tommo is not only horrified, but more depressed than ever because his leg is acting up. NOTE: The leg hurts each time Tommo's spirit sinks and symbolizes his powerlessness and despair. He begins to fear more and more that the Typees will eventually make a meal of him, and he simply can't see any way out. The fears become all the more intense when a battle breaks out between the Typees and Happars, and Tommo sees several bloody Happar bodies being carried back to the sacred Taboo Groves. He wants to know what's going on, but the fierce, violent one-eyed chief Mow-mow absolutely forbids it. We'll see how Mow-mow comes back at the very end of the story. Later Tommo does penetrate the Taboo Groves and opens up a carved wooden container, only to find the mutilated remains of a human body! Now he knows beyond any doubt that the Typees eat their slain enemies. His Eden is shattered by this knowledge of evil. The ferocious Mow- mow comes to symbolize all the violence of these people, which Tommo had seen little sign of until now. NOTE: As in Billy Budd, innocence and violence seem to be linked, perhaps springing from the same source deep inside human nature. You'll have no trouble imagining Tommo's desperation to escape now that his idyll has ended. His spirit lifts a bit when Marnoo returns and suggests that he sneak away from the Typees at night when they're all sleeping. Marnoo even points out a path he can take over the mountains, but the plan fails because someone always wakes up. Tommo sinks to his lowest ebb, though he does derive some comfort from the sympathy of kindly old Marheyo, who has learned two words of English: home and mother, the things Tommo most craves. Tommo's escape comes out of the blue, and it brings Typee to a thrilling conclusion. After being passive for so long, Tommo explodes with action in the final chapter when he hears that a boat is harbored in the bay. The islanders violently debate whether or not to let him go, with Mow-mow leading the opposition party. But while they're arguing with each other, Tommo rushes down to the beach. Karakoee, the Oahu islander who has come to rescue Tommo, was offered a reward by the captain of an Australian ship that needs more men for its crew. The captain heard about Tommo from Marnoo, so it turns out that the "Polynesian Apollo" proved helpful after all. The last moments are tense as Karakoee urges Tommo to hurry, and he must bid a hasty farewell to the tearful Fayaway. Then Tommo jumps in the rowboat that has neared the shore, and the rowers pull with all their might to get away. Mow-mow swims furiously after them with his tomahawk clenched between his teeth. Swallowing his pity, Tommo dashes the fierce warrior with the boat-hook and hits him just below the throat. His last image of the Typees is the "ferocious expression" on Mow-mow's face. Tommo has had to use violence himself to make his escape back to home and mother. Does this mean Tommo has picked up the Typee trait he most dreads, that their violence has made him a savage in the worst sense? Or is Melville saying that violence is inside all of us--civilized and savage alike--always ready to spring out when we're provoked, scared, or desperate? It makes you stop and think about your own reaction to the scene and wonder how you would have acted. In a brief sequel, Melville tells how Toby was kidnapped, in effect, by a wily beachcomber who sold him to a ship captain in need of crew. Toby desperately tries to persuade them to rescue Tommo, but they don't listen, and he's forced to sail away. After the publication of Typee, Toby came forward to verify the part of the story that he had experienced. Both Tommo and Toby were surprised and delighted to find each other alive. BILLY BUDD & TYPEE: GLOSSARY AFT Toward the stern, or tail end of the ship. BATTERY A group of guns of the same caliber. BEAM The width of a ship. BELLS The way time is told at sea by ringing a certain number of bells on the half-hour. BLUEJACKET A sailor. BOATSWAIN A petty officer on a ship in charge of rigging, cables, anchors, and similar matters. BOOM A long, horizontal pole used in extending sails, handling cargo, and pushing the ship away from wharves. BREECHING A strong rope used to secure a ship's gun in place. BULWARK The side of the ship raised above the level of the deck for purposes of protection. CAPSTAN A device for winding in ropes or cables. DARBIES British slang for handcuffs. DEADEYE A disk of wood with holes in it used in tightening the ship's rigging. DOG-WATCH One of the two-hour watches (period of duty for ship's crew) occurring between 4 and 8 PM. FORECASTLE The seaman's quarters located in the forward part of a ship; the part of the upper deck in front of the foremast. FORETOP The platform part way up the foremast (mast nearest the front end of the ship). GUN DECK Any deck on a warship that has cannons running from one end to another. The gun deck is never the weather deck, the deck that is upper-most and exposed to the weather. HARDTACK A hard biscuit without salt eaten by sailors when all other food runs out. LANYARD A short rope used to tighten the ship's rigging. LEE The sheltered side of the ship, the side toward which the wind blows. On a sailing ship, the lee side is lower than the weather side because the ship tilts with the wind. MAN-OF-WAR A warship. MESS A ship's dining room. MIZZENMAST The third mast from the front in a ship having three or more masts. POOP DECK A deck at the rear of a ship raised above the level of the main deck. PORT The ship's left side when you're facing forward. PURSER The officer who handles the ship's accounts. QUARTERDECK The part of the ship's weather deck that runs from the mainmast back to the poop. RATTAN A wicker cane or switch often carried by the petty officers on board a ship. SHROUD Part of the standing rigging of a ship. SPAR Any long pole used to support or extend the sails of a ship. STARBOARD The ship's right side when you're facing forward. STUN'SAIL A light sail, also called studdingsail. TAFFRAIL A rail running around the stern (rear) of a ship. TAR A nickname for sailor. YARDARM Either end of the pole known as the "yard" used to support a square sail. BILLY BUDD & TYPEE: BIBLICAL PARALLELS AND RESPECT FOR NECESSITY Following out the Biblical parallels that have been suggested at crucial points throughout this story, if Billy is young Adam before the Fall, and Claggart is almost the Devil incarnate, Vere is the Wise Father, terribly severe but righteous. No longer does Melville feel the fear and dislike of Jehovah that were oppressing him through Moby-Dick and Pierre. He is no longer protesting against determined laws as being savagely inexorable. He has come to respect necessity. He can therefore treat a character like Vere's with full sympathy. -F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance, 1941 BILLY BUDD & TYPEE: THE EXPERIENCE OF CHOOSING We may say that Billy Budd is a vision of man in society, a vision of man's moral quandary or his responsibility; but its meaning is more general than these, and that is why it haunts us. So haunted, I find the work not an essay on a moral issue but a form for embodying the feeling and idea of thinking about a moral issue, the experience of facing, or choosing, of being uneasy about one's choice, of trying to know. Not a conclusion like a sermon, Billy Budd is a vision of confronting what confronts us, of man thinking things out with all the attendant confusions and uncertainties. -William York Tindall, "The Ceremony of Innocence", 1956 BILLY BUDD & TYPEE: TRANSITION FROM PIONEER AMERICA TO COMMERCIAL CIVILIZATION Billy Budd is an intensely modern novel. It is concerned with the coming of a materialist, commercial civilization, rational and scientific, in which society grows ever more distant from the rich overflowing of human experience. Billy harks back to a more adventurous and youthful America which, with the frontier and the whaleship, was already passing in Melville's lifetime. Billy's type comes from "the time before steamships," the significant words with which the novel opens. -Charles A. Reich, "The Tragedy of Justice in Bully Budd", 1967 BILLY BUDD & TYPEE: AN ATTACK ON CAPTAIN VERE It may be argued that, while both Vere and Claggart possess intelligence, Vere uses his wisely and justly. But this argument collapses when it is perceived that Vere does not do what reason would suggest in so dubious a case, i.e., jail Billy until they reach land. The real point is, of course, that Vere does not act on reason and intelligence at all, but on fear, his intelligence, instead of being a guide, is a perverted instrument. Such scenes as the confusion of the officers and the doubt of the surgeon concerning Vere's sanity make sense only when regarded as putting into issue Vere's stature and ability. -Phil Withim, "Billy Budd: Testament of Resistance", 1959 BILLY BUDD & TYPEE: CONFLICTS OF THE "GENTLEMAN-BEACHCOMBER" In the role of gentleman-beachcomber, that is to say, Melville (is).. . the meditative outsider, who at the bottom of his heart does not know what world he belongs to. Instead of applying a coherent interpretative framework to Marquesan society, Melville struggles with passionate impulses and moral convictions that refuse to be ordered in a general design... In Typee the crisis of meaning is located within Melville himself: he finds his mind radically divided between horror and profound admiration for the islanders, as it is also divided between hatred for civilization and a frantic desire to return to it. -T. Walter Herbert, Jr., Marquesan Encounters, 1980 BILLY BUDD & TYPEE: CASTRATION AND CANNIBALISM The real theme of Billy Budd is castration and cannibalism... After forty years Melville had returned to the theme of Typee. In that book the young hero had extricated himself from the valley by a sudden exchange of passivity for action. Billy Budd is fatally passive, his acts of violence being unconsciously calculated to ensure his final submission. -Richard Chase, Herman Melville, 1949 THE END